By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
Ricardo Brutus, the garrulous 31-year-old nephew of North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre, swaggers down a narrow hallway on the second floor of a gritty building just south of Opa-locka Boulevard. Elections are only a few weeks away, and Brutus has been currying favor for Uncle Andre.
Suddenly, a half-dozen cops, badges out, lunge from around a corner. "Hands up!" they shout.
That was March 25. After months of taped phone calls and surveillance, Brutus would be charged with trying to extort money in exchange for political favors. It was the most shocking case in a long chain of alleged criminal and unethical behavior linked to the mayor, yet Pierre barely seems to notice. He's a powerful second-termer after winning re-election in May. "We've all been waiting for six months for Pierre to be arrested, and it's tearing this city apart," says Jacques Despinosse, a former city councilman.
It's time for State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to step up and indict Pierre already. According to public records and interviews, Pierre not only has established links to the Brutus case but also:
• tried to give away the city's best asset, the huge undeveloped Biscayne Landing property, to a firm owned by his former law partner and campaign manager based on a ludicrous plan to build an indoor ski slope;
• rolled around town in a borrowed $100,000 2010 Porsche Panamera without reporting the ride as a gift;
• ordered his police chief to spend $4,000 on dozens of realistic-looking fake police badges for his cronies and authorized $8,000 for another cop's company to bug city hall offices with video cameras; and
• helped steer more than $160,000 in city cash to two businessmen whom he represented as an attorney without disclosing the relationship.
About 60,000 people call North Miami home, but the town punches above its weight in Dade's ethnic and cultural scene. Idyllic Oleta River State Park lies inside its borders, as does the Museum of Contemporary Art and Florida International University's Biscayne Bay campus. Twenty years ago, Haitian immigrants began settling en masse west of Biscayne Boulevard, soon dwarfing the white population, which dominates nearer to Biscayne Bay. One-third of voters in North Miami are now Haitian. In 2001, they helped anoint Joe Celestin the first Haitian-American mayor of any significant American city.
Two years ago, that crown passed to Pierre, a handsome lawyer with sleepy eyes and a muscular jaw line. He was born in 1969 in Arcahaie, a town of 100,000 on the coast north of Port-au-Prince, and lived in Haiti until he was 14 years old, when he emigrated to Long Island.
Pierre, who didn't return three calls seeking comment and an emailed list of questions, was a good student, graduating from the New York Institute of Technology and working three years as an engineer before moving to Miami to study law. He made his mark soon after graduating from the University of Miami in 1997, earning a glowing Miami Herald profile for helping Haitian immigrants.
When he announced his mayoral candidacy in 2009, many supporters backed the well-spoken outsider. Pierre took challenger Frank Wolland to a runoff and beat him, thanks partly to controversy when his campaign signs were scrawled with racist slogans.
"A lot of Haitians respect Pierre," says Marleine Bastien, director of Haitian women's organization Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami and a former U.S. House candidate. "He comes across as a very smart man with a lot of charisma."
Or at least he did, until he took office. The first warning sign was his handling of Biscayne Landing, a 193-acre former Superfund site near NE 151st Street and Biscayne Boulevard that is now home to a hulking 397-unit apartment complex. In April 2010, he backed a plan to let a company with no visible cash develop an indoor ski park there.
Why support such an idiotic idea? Well, the firm's president was Marc Douthit, Pierre's former law partner; and its vice president, Willis Howard, was his campaign manager. Pierre has denied any influence over the deal. "I didn't make any calls. I didn't lobby anyone," he told the Herald. "Nothing here is questionable."
Pierre doesn't seem the kind of guy to be exposed with such a conflict. He spent weeks flying back and forth from Port-au-Prince after Haiti's devastating earthquake in January 2010 and helped raise more than $100,000 for relief. But then he raised hackles in the city by sitting on the money for almost 12 months. When he finally gave it away, $16,000 went to a local charity not registered with the IRS — not the Red Cross, as the city had originally promised donors.
Then there is the midnight-blue Porsche, which the Herald first noticed after residents began asking questions. When the paper questioned him about the ride, the mayor said a local chiropractor named David Kidd had lent it to him. Kidd denied this, though, adding Pierre is "not [a] close friend."
The real hammer fell this past March 25, when Brutus was charged with felony unlawful compensation. An undercover video released by prosecutors illustrated why — and left unanswered questions about the mayor.
Footage from a hidden camera shows Brutus taking $3,500 in cash on January 26 from Shlomo Chelminsky, a local landlord who had asked Brutus to pull an item from the city agenda the night before. Chelminsky casually asks Brutus whom the money is for. Brutus answers, "I gotta take care of everybody." The commission is "money hungry," Brutus adds, and the mayor knows about everyone "taking money on the side." Although Brutus denies on camera paying the mayor himself, Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents later watched Brutus enter Pierre's law office with a white envelope they believe was stuffed with cash, according to a surveillance report. He left empty-handed.
I don't knows why Andre Pierre still at the this office for all these wrong doing!!! Their need to put this rat away.
why weren't people this pissed when dick cheney made Haliburton the third branch of US government? I know it's apples and oranges, nonetheless, it's interesting to see the velocity and aggression towards just another politician. Banana republic, etc....don't knock the guy for being smart, and clean cut.
sounds like alot of hating from his critics and it seems like he made the mistake of being a clean cut black dude with a law degree from UM. I guess he should put a gold tooth in his mouth and sag his pants...then we'd all be happy. ditch the porsche for a '64 impala!!!
i'm sure every white guy that had his job before him never had any alliances with anybody who came into city hall?
He may be crooked and he may be a normal politician. Be careful about trying to lynch anyone who attempts to be a black intellectual because the exact oppositte is already vilified....how do you expect a communitty to respond when the world reacts with so much vitiriol. I'm not seeing where the guy is corrupt. Maybe lacked proper judgement in showing his wealth....then again...so did George Bush.
What do you need - a signed confession, a video tape and a voice recording? Wake up and pay attention! It's sad how, once again, the concept that "the love of money is the root of all evil" has been proven true.
I voted for him the first time. I'm truly disappointed he would surround himself with such corrupt people and ruin his own reputation, even if he is not directly doing unethical acts, which he obviously is. There is an old saying in Spanish... "tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are." There you have it. It's a shame for the Haitian community, who once again have to be humilliated by having crooks representing them.
I went to law school with Andre. I can assure you that he is no intellectual. I congratulate him on making it through law school, but he barely made it through . Ask him if he will release his grades.
This is not about white versus black, its about right versus wrong. When you take the City's money to buy fake badges so people you know can pretend to be police thats just morally wrong! No matter what he should be indicted and removed from the status of Mayor!
Add to the list dubious campaign fund raising practices... such as having a well known local scam artist / drug dealer / son of a former mayor host parties at Pierre's house. Anywhere else the combination of blow, money, politics, strippers, and a hefty dash of corruption would seem out of place. But not here, folks. In good ole' MIA its standard operating procedure.
The New Times gets a few points (but not many) for crediting the Miami Herald with breaking this story and thoroughly exposing Pierre. But the funny thing is if the tables were turned and the MNT had reported all this first with the Herald following up later, the MNT would spend at least a couple weeks gloating about it and poking fun at the Herald for not being original.
FINALLY!!! It's about time they arrested this banana republic politician! Not here in the USA ................justice will prevail!
There's some serious allegations here. I'd really like to hear the other side of the story but unfortunately, as is par for the course in SoFla politics, it's probably going to be radio silence from Pierre's camp.