BEST POLITICAL CONVICTION IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS - 2004
The former United Teachers of Dade boss was a throwback to the days of smoke-filled rooms that admitted only good ol' boys. In 40 years Tornillo built the UTD into a political machine that propelled to power numerous school-board members, state legislators, even governors. With that kind of clout (and total control of the union), it wasn't so surprising to discover that the man's sense of entitlement led him to consider the UTD treasury his personal piggy bank. Audits revealed that Tornillo had embezzled at least $2.5 million to finance a lavish lifestyle that included luxury gifts for his wife, ritzy hotel rooms (some right here in Miami), and an extravagant three-week vacation that burned up $50,000 -- roughly the cost of hiring a new teacher with a master's degree and fifteen years' experience. On August 26, 2003, Tornillo pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and mail fraud. Many were outraged at the lenient 27-month prison term he received, and incensed that he wasn't required to cooperate in further investigations. But he did get caught, and he was prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated. In Miami, that's a rare achievement.