City of Miami Beach Employee Shunned for Helping FBI

Twelve months ago, Miami Beach seemed on the verge of a very necessary cleanup. On April 11, 2012, FBI agents arrested six city employees — four code compliance officers and two firefighters — and an FBI liaison stayed in city hall to look into more corruption. Beach officials urged employees to cooperate.

So when the feds asked Rick Falls — a part-time code compliance employee — to wear a wire, he agreed. And when they asked him to record phone conversations with his superiors, he did. But instead of a commendation for his help, Falls says all he got in return was harassment.

"They belittled me and made up petty accusations against me," Falls says of his supervisors. "I was just trying to do the right thing."

"I don't think there was any retaliation" against Falls, says City of Miami Beach spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez. "We continue to encourage our employees to come forward and report wrongdoing."

After lead code enforcement officer Jose Alberto was arrested for taking bribes, Falls contacted the FBI to share his concerns that Alberto had quashed citations against certain South Beach hotels. The feds told Falls they were also investigating his boss, code compliance director Robert Santos-Alborna. For several months, the agents had Falls wear a wire to record his conversations with Santos-Alborna and others. In September, however, the agents told Falls that the investigation into Santos-Alborna had gone nowhere.

(The FBI would not comment on Falls's story. His account is backed up by a memo written by Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics investigator Sylvia Batista. Rodriguez confirms that Santos-Alborna was temporarily transferred and was disciplined for — among other things — not reporting an affair that Alberto had with an employee.)

But Falls's problems were only beginning. A few months later, he was flabbergasted to receive a scathing performance review. When Falls tried to meet with Santos-Alborna's replacement — Miami Beach Police Commander Hernan Cardeno — to discuss a full-time position, the commander called him a "troublemaker" who never had a chance at getting the job, Falls says. And when Santos returned to the department, he punished him for helping the feds, Falls claims.

Falls filed complaints with both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the ethics commission, which dropped the case because Miami Beach has never adopted the county's whistleblower-protection ordinance.

Falls, who recently transferred out of code compliance, says the complaints aren't about money but providing a record for future whistleblowers. "I tried to do the right thing, but nobody spoke up for me," he says. "I just feel like I was did wrong."

 
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