By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Why was Dominguez blasted when so many others went free? He has a theory:
"I wouldn't keep my voice down," he says. In fact, Dominguez, who earned $85,000 as a firefighter, filed a lawsuit against the county years before his arrest alleging he was treated unfairly as a veteran.
Either way, he went to trial in July 2008. A jury found him guilty on all 16 counts after he unconvincingly argued that his GI Bill money was a "benefit" that shouldn't count against county reimbursement. Circuit Court Judge Dennis Murphy — perhaps recognizing unequal treatment — withheld adjudication and sentenced him to two years of probation and anger management counseling.
That's not to say he's not suffering. His $143,000 condo in Sweetwater went into foreclosure soon after his arrest. His wife, Chelcea, left around the same time with their 8-year-old daughter, Sophia.
Marine veteran and eight-year commissioner Diaz, by contrast, is the kind of guy whom bosses love. He has also made a career out of being more slippery than a Crisco-greased hog. In 1993, as a young member of the Sweetwater City Council, he was accused of rigging a zoning vote in exchange for campaign cash. (The state ethics panel dropped the complaint.)
Then, in 2004, Diaz flew on developer Sergio Pino's private jet for a cushy fishing trip to Cancun — just months before Diaz helped engineer a key zoning deal for a Pino-owned plot of land in Doral. (That deal triggered a federal investigation, but no charges were filed.)
Two years later, the Herald revealed he earned $80,000 a year working for a Doral pharmaceutical baron. Even his supposed boss, Carlos De Céspedes, couldn't explain exactly what Diaz did to earn it. (De Céspedes is now serving time for tax fraud, but Diaz emerged unscathed.)
Recently, the Herald nailed Diaz again, revealing that since the commissioner joined U.S. Construction as a director in 2008, the firm has come out of nowhere to dominate contracts at Miami International Airport. As chairman of a committee that oversees MIA, Diaz never directly voted to give the firm business — but the Herald found that at least three times he voted to pay a firm that, in turn, hired his company.
"If it's not illegal," says Vanessa Brito, founder of Miami Voice, a group spearheading a drive to recall five commissioners, "it's definitely unethical."
If there are any plans to investigate Diaz, county officials aren't saying. The commissioner will probably keep on making six figures and winning re-election indefinitely. His office didn't return several calls seeking comment.
Dominguez, meanwhile, is working a handful of odd jobs — consulting for cigar shops, helping an electronics firm — and trying to keep his condo, though he hasn't made a payment since his arrest. A Florida appeals court has agreed to hear in January his case arguing he should be reinstated at the fire department. He still dreams of suiting up again.
As he sits in a Cuban café just off South Dixie Highway in South Miami, his eyes well with tears when he talks about the past three years. "My daughter was born two weeks before I left for Iraq, and when I think about everything she's been through, it's really hard," he says. "I stay strong because I know there are a lot of people watching my case and pulling for me to win."