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
It's great to have Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman as a pal when you don't want to pay a city bill. Consider the case of Prime Home Builders, a company owned by a family of real estate developers that has donated more than five grand to Bateman's re-election campaign.
On November 16, 2009, the city ordered Prime's owners — Edward, Fred, and Larry Abbo — to remove illegal billboards from properties they owned in Homestead. They didn't remove the signs for six months, so code enforcement slapped the firm with a $114,000 fine — $250 per day that the company didn't take down the billboards.
According to city documents, a Prime executive met with city leaders June 30, 2010, after a lien was placed on the company's land. A week later, the city agreed to reduce the punishment from $114,000 to $802. A city employee who asked to remain anonymous claims Bateman ordered the fine to be forgiven.
Former City Manager Sergio Purriños, who was employed by Homestead until recently and met with Prime officials, can't recall speaking to Bateman about the code violations. "I remember there were discussions about the size and location of signs in the city owned by several developers, not just Prime," Purriños says. "I don't remember any meetings about mitigating their fine."
Prime executive Jorge Cepero tells Riptide that neither he nor his bosses discussed the $114,000 fine with Bateman. "Neither before, during, or after it was removed," Cepero says.
Bateman did not return two messages left on his cell phone and an email requesting comment — but during a meeting with a confidential informant wearing a wire, he denied any wrongdoing, police records show.
This past June 30, the Abbos contributed $5,500 to the mayor's campaign through 11 of their corporations.
There's more. Purriños told investigators Bateman had ordered him to rescind a $10,499 electric bill racked up by his friend Joseph Strano. He had been busted for tampering with his meter.
State prosecutors decided not to pursue either matter, records show. Strano recently agreed to pay off the outstanding electric bill.
Bateman will face off against former Homestead Councilman Steve Losner November 1.