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An old-fashioned case of gatecrashing left Homestead's mayor facing a vandalism investigation last month, and even though charges were never filed, the incident has blossomed into a blistering dispute between a local businessman and the city's top politico.
The trouble began March 7 with an argument over a locked gate. Miami attorney John Ruiz, who operates La Ley Sports Complex in Homestead, told cops that Mayor Steve Bateman chopped his way through the lock to let students and parents access a road to nearby Keys Gate Charter High School.
"I never had an issue with him," Ruiz says of Bateman. "He just lost it and took actions that he should not have taken as an elected official." (Bateman did not respond to a message left on his cell phone seeking comment.)
Ruiz told Homestead Police Det. Federico Morales that Bateman had called him that morning complaining about the locked gate. "John, you are putting me in a bad position," Bateman allegedly said, according to Ruiz. "I need you to do me a favor and remove the lock."
When he refused, Ruiz claims, the mayor threatened him with eviction. Shortly afterward, a La Ley employee called to tell Ruiz that someone had cut through the lock and opened the gate.
Several witnesses backed up Ruiz's story. Keys Gate Principal David McKnight told police in a sworn statement that Bateman called to let him know he "took care of the lock." McKnight also said Bateman bragged that he wanted to try out a new pair of bolt cutters he had just purchased. Another witness, the school's maintenance supervisor, Louie Carlo, told Morales that Bateman said, "It didn't even take a big bolt cutter to cut the lock."
Batemen didn't exactly provide an alibi in his police interview. On April 15, Morales met with the mayor, who complained that Ruiz should be grateful that he supported the lawyer on many issues in city hall. Bateman also badgered the investigator about who had provided sworn statements and why he was last to be interviewed.
Bateman also admitted driving to Keys Gate the day of the incident because he had been receiving calls about traffic backing up outside the school due to the locked gate. He then refused to answer further questions without his attorney present.
The case ended May 30, when the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office determined there was no probable cause to arrest the mayor.
But the dispute lives on. Ruiz and the city have since sued each other in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The City of Homestead — alleging La Ley Sports owes about $350,000 for insurance, utility bills, and property taxes — is trying to evict the company.
In a separate lawsuit, Ruiz claims Homestead overbilled him for utilities, citing the city's admission in April 2012 that it had billed La Ley $22,000 for a dumpster that wasn't on the property. Ruiz also alleges the city rented out the road both to him and to the neighboring charter school.