By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Trevor Bach
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This past August 11, shortly before dawn, Rolando Bolaños logged on to Facebook to update his status regarding his favorite subject, Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina. The ex-Hialeah Police chief informed his network of friends about a $200,000 private loan Robaina received from a city vendor in 2002. Three days earlier, Bolaños had commented about Robaina's close relationship with accused Ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez and disgraced former state Rep. Ralph Arza.
It's unusual for a retired police chief to wage a public vendetta against his former boss on Facebook, but this isn't just any town. It's Hialeah. "Everybody is on Facebook," Bolaños rhapsodizes. "It's free, and it's technologically efficient. I can state my opinion without people changing it. Besides, I don't know how to Twitter."
Bolaños's use of the popular social media network to discredit Robaina provides an unfiltered view into the nasty political civil war that has flared up in the City of Progress. On one side is Robaina, the successor to longtime Hialeah overlord Raul Martinez, who weathered three trials and one conviction before federal prosecutors dropped their extortion and racketeering case. On the other are Bolaños and former Hialeah Housing Authority Executive Director Alex Morales, who accuse the current mayor of running an unethical and corrupt administration. Robaina "is a phony," Bolaños tells New Times. "He is not the person I thought he was."
Robaina, an influential Cuban-American Republican who is a rumored 2012 county mayoral candidate, declined three requests for an interview. The Hialeah mayor is also playing a big role in Miami-Dade School Board member Perla Tabares Hantman's re-election campaign, raising funds and supplying volunteers.
Politics in Hialeah has never been for the meek. It's a grimy game that for a quarter-century was controlled by Martinez's iron grip. If you wanted to get elected to the city council, you had best stay on his good side. Anyone who dared challenge Martinez's power was pulverized with impunity. Robaina, a Martinez acolyte, was elected to the city council in 1997. He served as council president from 2001 to 2005. That year, as Martinez's anointed successor, Robaina won the mayoral election by 60 percent.
For 20 years, Bolaños was the Hialeah mayor's loyal police chief until he retired in 2007. Then came the rift. Bolaños's son Daniel wanted to run for the city council seat currently occupied by Katharine Cue, a 22-year-old former Miss Hialeah. The Bolaños patriarch wanted his friend Robaina's support despite the fact that Daniel and his brother, Rolando Jr., both former cops, were accused of police brutality by eight victims in the late '90s. (Daniel resigned in 2004 rather than go through a retrial. Rolando Jr. resigned after a separate criminal investigation turned up that he did not disclose he had been arrested for grand theft auto when he applied with the Hialeah Police Department.)
According to Bolaños, Robaina instructed him and Daniel to meet with Arza, who acts as an emissary for the Hialeah mayor. When the three men convened at a Starbucks in Miami Springs, Arza asked them to run against Councilman Luis Gonzalez, a friend of theirs. Says Bolaños: "We told him we would run against Cue."
Bolaños says he knew that when the clandestine coffee meeting ended, he and his son "wouldn't have a good time with [their] campaign." He says, "Julio made phone calls to friends I wanted to raise money from [and told them] that Kathy was his candidate and that Danny was not to be helped." Cue defeated Daniel Bolaños by a whopping 90 percent in the 2009 November city election. Robaina was re-elected by capturing 93 percent of the vote.
Two weeks after his resounding victory, Robaina acquired another ally-turned-enemy in Morales, then the Hialeah Housing Authority's top administrator. The authority's board of directors, appointed by Robaina, fired Morales, who is suing the mayor for defamation in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. Morales has a separate complaint against the HHA for breaching his employment contract.
Since this past May, Bolaños and Morales have teamed up to destroy Robaina's credibility. They have appeared at city council meetings to accuse the mayor of playing a shell game with the city budget, among other dastardly deeds. During the council's July 28 meeting, Morales brought up a loan Robaina received from Fedan Tire Corp., as well as another private deal between the mayor and a city vendor.
Morales revealed that his former boss had taken a $200,000 loan July 1, 2002, from Felix Sanchez, owner of Fedan. The transaction took place when the mayor was city council president and one year after he and his council colleagues unanimously voted to award Fedan a $50,000 contract to provide city vehicles with replacement tires and roadside service.
Between 2002 and 2003, Morales noted, Robaina voted three separate times in favor of Fedan, including once for a new $50,000 deal and then subsequently to increase that amount by $20,000. According to Miami-Dade court records, Robaina paid off Sanchez September 24, 2003.
On his Facebook page, Bolaños accused Robaina of violating the state's elected officials code of ethics by not publicly disclosing the loan at any of the city council meetings or on his financial disclosure statements during the two years the loan was outstanding.
In a separate deal five years later, and two years after being elected mayor, Robaina and his sister loaned $300,000 to the wife of Roberto Blanco, who at the time was owner of Galloway Towing Services Inc., which provided towing for the police department. Like his transaction with Sanchez, Robaina did not list the loan as an asset on his 2007 and 2008 financial disclosure forms. He did include the loan in his 2009 statement.
Bolaños and Morales claim Robaina again violated Florida's elected officials code of ethics by entering into deals with city vendors. Robaina's detractors have also focused on the mayor's business relationship with Luis Felipe Perez, a flashy Hialeah diamond jeweler whom the feds have criminally charged with running a $40 million Ponzi scheme. Perez showered political campaign contributions on Robaina, Martinez, and many other Miami-Dade elected officials, but only Robaina has publicly admitted to doing business with the accused scammer. MR Holdings Co., a corporation owned by the mayor's wife, Raiza Villacis-Robaina, loaned Perez $100,000 in September 2006 at an annual interest rate of 18 percent. According to Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts records, Perez paid off the loan in 2007.
In an article that appeared in El Nuevo Herald this past June 5, Robaina claimed he was aware of the alleged Ponzi scheme 18 to 24 months before Perez was indicted. Robaina said, "I knew the problem because my wife was cheated. I cannot give details because it is in the hands of the lawyers."
Bolaños posted the Herald article on his Facebook page this past August 8 with the following comments: "When you know for the past 18-24 months that the GIVER is a TAKER and that the funds MAY come from victimized citizens, THEN, my friends, there is something WRONG with ROBAINA's standards of ETHICS."
Morales, who provided copies of the loan documents to city council members and New Times, says the goal is to expose Robaina. "There is a serious lack of ethics by the mayor," Morales says. "Robaina has a clear conflict of interest. This guy is not on the up-and-up."