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
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
In a memo, then-City Manager Jorge Gonzalez partially blamed the arrests on Permits Plus, which, he wrote, "does not contain an 'audit trail' function. This meant that job value... could be changed... by a single individual without the system recording."
The scandal vindicated Weston. "I think the city has become a racketeering-based, corrupt organization," he says.
As for the missing millions in permit fees, "there are three possibilities as to what was going on," Weston says. "First, that contractors lied about the values and that clerks were too stupid to know. Second, they were scriveners' errors. Or third, there was fraud going on."
Weston has met with officials from the FBI and the Miami-Dade Police Department's Public Corruption Investigations Bureau to discuss his complaints. It is unclear if either agency is investigating. Miami-Dade Police did not return calls from New Times. The FBI declined to comment.
Mid-interview, Weston rummages through his bag and pulls out something shiny: a 1944 Canadian victory nickel. Like corruption, coins are an obsession of his.
"Cities are like money," he says, holding up the coin to show the Morse code embedded in its edge. "They are full of hidden things."
Captain Ed Gonzalez sat in front of his home computer. His stocky firefighter's frame perched precariously above a keyboard as his thick fingers pecked words of outrage. It was just before midnight September 10, 2012.
"Accept this as my official forced letter of resignation," he typed.
At the time of his resignation, Gonzalez was the fourth highest-ranking member of the department. But he'd had enough.
The details of Gonzalez's allegations — which, like Weston's, have never been reported before — suggest that fire officials ignored evidence of bribery. Gonzalez had witnessed a hotel manager in South Beach detail his entanglement with a bribery scheme, and then watched in dismay as nothing was done about it. Meanwhile, Gonzalez's own job was brought to a screeching halt as he tried to blow the whistle.
"One hell of a way to end a career," he wrote in his resignation letter.
Gonzalez had joined the department the same day Otero, the future chief, had arrived: January 16, 1989. Gonzalez was born in Key West and still bears the laid-back attitude of a Conch. His dad was a doctor who insisted his kids get a good education in Miami, so Ed studied accounting at St. Thomas University. He became a sales rep at AT&T but grew bored. He saw an ad for the fire department. At 40 years old, he arrived at training a decade older and a few pounds heavier than the other recruits.
Otero, on the other hand, was a lean and handsome Colombian-American. Just out of the Army, Otero made no effort to hide his ambition. "He came in with the full intention of becoming the fire chief one day," Gonzalez says. "He said as much. All the time."
The two became friends while serving on the same rescue teams. They trained together, put out fires together, even lived together in an apartment near South Shore. "I introduced him to his second wife," Gonzalez says of Otero. When Gonzalez and his wife celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary, the Oteros attended.
But the friendship began to fall apart in February 2011. That's when a routine inspection pulled back the veil on widespread bribe-taking, Gonzalez says.
It started with a routine call to a construction site at 34th Street and Collins Avenue. He was met there by Armando Perez-Roura Jr., the son of the powerful Radio Mambí talk-show host of the same name. Junior had been busted in 1984 for importing cocaine from Colombia, but served just two years after becoming a government informant, according to a 2004 New Times report. Now he was trying to go legit as the manager of the Versailles Hotel Condominium.
"He just opened up," Gonzalez remembers. Perez-Roura Jr. told the fire captain that he and other condo board members had paid thousands in bribes to fire inspectors and other city officials to expedite renovations. But the bribes hadn't worked.
"It was like, Oh crap. What do I do now?" Gonzalez remembers thinking. "I didn't want to walk away, but also I couldn't go to my supervisors."
Instead, Gonzalez called the Miami Beach Police Department's Strategic Investigations Unit — the unit that had busted corruption within the building department three years earlier. On February 28, 2011, Gonzalez accompanied Dets. Rosa Redruello, Alkareem Azim, and Debra Travis to the Versailles.
(New Times obtained a redacted copy of the intelligence report on that meeting. Asked for an unredacted copy, the Miami Beach PD refused on the basis that the information could expose an undercover officer. The details below come from the redacted report, except for Perez-Roura Jr.'s identity, which he confirmed in an interview with New Times.)
Here's what Perez-Roura Jr. told detectives: A fire had damaged the building in 2005, so inspectors informed the Versailles owner he'd have to hire an architect. The condo board hired Reymundo Miranda of UCI Engineering to do the job.
Miranda soon approached the wife of the condo's board president and told her he needed $15,000 to "pay off city officials," according to the report. "Perez-Roura Jr. said he personally delivered $15,000 cash to Miranda, who told him that the money would insure that the City would 'leave them alone.'"
jose smith the city attorney has been the the longest and perhaps he is the corruption problem in miami beach.
Take a look at the New MB Risk Manager from MDC omg she worked with Risk Mgr. Miguel Solomon who fired for setting up fake insurance claims. Now MB has this adjuster from MDC to help City Atty Jose Smith settle cases with out anyone looking at anything.. Super Job HR dept, and the want to be City Manager Kathie Brooks... Is anyone paying attention to what they are doing???Hello Inspector General all the dirt is buried in the Risk Mgt Dept and the City Attorneys Office. Oh I forgot that is not open to Public Records...
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Sure sounds alot like the MIA /305 that I know. What, you didn't think the banana republic just went away, did you? Another example of how you can do whatever you want in Miami, as long as your money is green.