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By David Villano
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She also says she received death threats. When Smart pulled her bag out of her locker one day, out fell a photo of her with the eyes crossed out. "Liar," was written under her face, along with a warning: "Next fire last fire."
Smart filed her lawsuit in federal court in 2010.
Asked about Gentles and Smart, however, Otero declined to comment to New Times. "My interest is in moving forward, not continually rehashing things."
"His theory was that none of this crap happened," Smart counters. "He told me that I lied in court, when he's not even supposed to be discussing the trial." She claims Otero also sent her "really nasty emails," including one that accused her of "playing games."
"Can you believe this is the fire chief?" she says.
Ed Gonzalez was apoplectic when then-City Manager Jorge Gonzalez appeared at David's Café in South Beach before a crowd of residents and claimed he had nothing to do with last April's corruption arrests. Like many residents, he was furious when the city manager walked off with a half-million-dollar severance package a few weeks later.
But the firefighter knew the real damage had already been done. Because Otero and other fire officials had ignored his and David Weston's complaints, city employees had continued to extort tens of thousands of dollars from business owners for years until the federal arrests. Millions in permit fees potentially went uncollected.
Worst of all, those responsible for the corruption might never be punished. First, there is Jorge Gonzalez. After the 2008 building department arrests, he insisted the Permits Plus system had no audit function. But several reports showed it did. He also promised to crack down on employees abusing the system. He didn't.
An audit released earlier this month shows that years after the arrests — and half a decade after Weston first raised concerns about the system — employees danced around the Permits Plus controls with ease. For instance, the database failed to red-flag the fact that Chai Footman and Henry Bryant had issued just one violation in their last 1,423 inspections — an obvious sign they were looking the other way.
More than $184,000 in fines were removed from accounts without proper documentation, the audit continues. Half were removed at the whim of one person without supervision, the other half by the city's lead code administrator, Jose Alberto.
But what really rankles Weston is that the abuse is exactly what he warned about back in 2007. In fact, the author of the recent report, internal auditor James Sutter, was the very person to tell him he would "probably be fired" for raising concerns. The alleged corruption also mimics the information Ed Gonzalez took to police in 2011.
Jorge Gonzalez, though, deflects any blame for the corruption crisis on the Beach.
"Me not being city manager today has nothing to do with corruption. I'm no longer city manager because of politics," he says. "I'm an easy target [because] I left. They feel like they have to blame somebody. People can accuse me of being corrupt, but there hasn't been one lick of evidence, because it isn't there."
Both whistleblowers also partially blame Otero for the ongoing corruption scandal. "As assistant chief back then, Otero would have been the person doing the investigations, so he bears the responsibility," Ed Gonzalez says.
But Otero says he never spoke to Ed Gonzalez about his meeting with police and learned of it only after Gonzalez quit. The fire chief also refused to sit down with New Times to go over police reports about the Versailles bribes. Likewise, Otero claims to have no knowledge of Weston's complaints about missing permit fees.
"I have no indications that there is corruption within the fire prevention bureau," Otero says. "The FBI did a very thorough investigation, and they arrested the only two that were stupid enough to bite the hook," referring to Footman and Bryant.
Otero says that if his department has a reputation, it is for being "hard-asses, by the book, who don't know how to interpret code to help businesses."
Weston and Gonzalez say they won't believe the department is clean until Otero, Machen, and others are gone. The two would like to see a serious investigation into Jorge Gonzalez, whom they suspect knew about their complaints but quashed them.
"They had a chance to put a stop to criminal activity," Weston says. "Why didn't they? I don't know if I'll ever get an answer to that question."
Each whistleblower is now weighing his future. Ed Gonzalez is preparing a lawsuit over his forced resignation. Weston, meanwhile, would like a chance to clear his name and scrub the city clean. He says he has been in discussions with Miami Beach city manager candidate Jimmy Morales about being appointed to a special anti-corruption post. "I'm going to go in there and tell them who the skunks still left are."
As part of his settlement agreement, Brian Gentles is now working as a fire inspector. But his job will last only 17 more months, and he is considering further litigation. Marlenis Smart, meanwhile, was awarded $700,000 by a federal judge last March. However, the city is demanding a new trial, and she has yet to see any of the money.
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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