By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
Call 305-441-5966 and you will reach Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's private law office, located at 3000 Shipping Ave., a two-story residence right next door to the property he calls home. Since before he was elected commissioner in 2006, Sarnoff has remained steadfast that his business address is absolutely legal and that he can practice law from there. During a phone conversation with Riptide August 27, the Coconut Grove politician reiterated he has obtained all the proper permits and that he has a certificate of occupancy for his firm, Sarnoff & Bayer. "I am not operating an illegal office," Sarnoff insisted.
Yet a day before the commish spoke with us, Miami's code enforcement office sent Sarnoff a violation notice informing him that he had failed "to follow the requirements for a home occupation business." The city's crackdown happened after three of the commissioners' most vociferous critics pressured code enforcers and city attorney Julie Bru to cite Sarnoff. It began with an email August 4 to several city officials and local news reporters (including this staff writer) from John El-Masry, owner of Mr. Moe's Restaurant and Bar, who is suing the commissioner and the city in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. El-Masry claims he has lost business ever since Sarnoff championed the rollback of last call at Coconut Grove bars and clubs from 5 a.m. to 3.
In his electronic missive, Mr. Moe's proprietor laid out several reasons Sarnoff is operating an illegal office, such as not having a valid certificate of occupancy, and that city code prohibits professional associations such as Sarnoff & Bayer from operating out of a single-family home.
When the city's code enforcement office ignored El-Masry's complaint for almost three weeks, Coconut Grove Village Council member Stephen Murray and local blogger Al Crespo sent letters August 25 to Bru accusing her and code enforcement officers of stalling. "It appears to me that Mr. Sarnoff has been receiving special and preferential treatment because of his status as an elected official," Murray wrote. Crespo wrote that "the stench associated with... the abuse of power and the glaring examples of special treatment in this matter are stunning."
Sarnoff told Riptide that Murray and Crespo are working with El-Masry to smear him: "John is angry. This is one of the ways he is trying to get back at me." Still, asked to provide proof to us that his law office is legal, the commissioner claimed he doesn't have the documentation. "The city has it," he said. "Although they are having trouble retrieving the files."
El-Masry doesn't hide his contempt for Sarnoff: "The guy is a liar and a hypocrite. My goal is to expose him." Said Murray: "People need to know who the real Marc Sarnoff is. They need to see the guy behind the curtain."
Sarnoff has until September 7 to correct the violation.