For Barbara Jordan, blood is thicker than water. How else can the Miami-Dade County commissioner justify the $5,000 her reelection campaign paid to the company owned by her sister Sandy Walker, a once-powerful lobbyist who five years ago pleaded guilty to defrauding the county?
In a recent interview with Banana Republican, Walker defended the payment to her firm, the Gospel Truth, which she says publishes a monthly magazine under the same name. "We are providing media consulting and management services for her campaign," Walker said. "We do more than just put out a magazine."
While it's not illegal for Jordan to hire her sister for political work, it's the kind of questionable judgment that should lead auto magnate Norman Braman to run an opponent against her.
Walker was a primary target in one of the biggest public corruption probes to rock county government. In 2005, Miami-Dade prosecutors and police subpoenaed at least two dozen local companies that had retained Walker as a lobbyist. Law enforcement officials demanded records of their contracts, invoices, financial records, and correspondence with Walker, who at the time was representing some of the major developers in Miami-Dade, including Century Homes, Lennar Homes and Atlantic Civil.
Investigators wanted to determine if Walker -- who was also chief of staff to Commissioner Dennis Moss -- deliberately failed to disclose the income from her lobbying activities in order to obtain an unsecured $200,000 loan in 2001 from the now-defunct Miami-Dade Empowerment Zone Trust, a county and federally funded urban-renewal program. The investigation was prompted by a county audit that found a host of problematic insider deals by the trust's board of directors.
In Walker's case, she used her loan to buy a $215,000, 10,000-square-foot building in Overtown that was going to house the Gospel Truth's headquarters alongside a residential or commercial project. But Walker missed an Oct. 1, 2004 repayment date. In 2006, Walker was charged with a felony of organized scheme to defraud. Detectives found that Walker had indeed submitted false tax returns to the empowerment zone trust. The returns stated Walker lost $8,190 in 2000 and $7,176 in 2001. In reality, Walker had earned more than $100,000 in each of those years, most of it in lobbying fees. Three months after she was arrested, Walker paid back the loan.
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In 2007, she pleaded guilty in exchange for receiving a withheld adjudication, which spared her from a felony conviction on her record. As part of the agreement, she had to abandon her lobbying practice and assist public-corruption prosecutors by "detailing her knowledge of and participation in the business of governmental relations in south Florida." Walker was sentenced to six months of house arrest and three years of probation, which she completed.
During a brief with Banana Republican, Walker accused Miami New Times of being unfair to her family, especially her brother Otis Wallace, who was recently the subject of an investigative story about his controversial tenure as Florida City's mayor.
"Your publication is not one of my favorites or of my family's," she said. "I certainly don't appreciate the story that was done about my brother."