The Freedom Tower was not, not, the object of 
    a fraud scheme
The Freedom Tower was not, not, the object of a fraud scheme
Jonathan Postal

Density Turns on the Radio

The David Foster Wallace-footnote-length sponsorship signatures of Pollo Tropical and the Community Foundation of Broward. Referring to traffic snarl spotter Maritza Martin as "M Squared." Joseph Cooper.

Any given broadcast hour of WLRN-FM (91.3) has The Bitch reaching for the Vicodin bottle, but the station's recent fundraising drive had the sensitive-eared canine hounding the pharmacy daily as the on-air talent, normally squelched during the day by the NPR feed, became ubiquitous -- talking over This American Life, no less -- and shrill.

The fundraising drive, which concluded last week with pledges from more than 4200 souls totaling $530,000 give or take, reached less than zero during an afternoon grovel for donations between two announcers, who compared the donation of a couple sawbucks to the price of a favorite shade of Lancôme. The makeup metaphor was quickly seized upon: "I just hate it when I spend $20 for a tube of lipstick and then leave it in my car, and it melts all over!"

Faithful public-radio listeners nonetheless persevered, answering the call to support the station by opening their wallets. Mark LaPorta, a Miami Beach physician, presented WLRN with a donation and a challenge, offering to match up to $1000 put up by callers who identified themselves as fellow haters of the station's superficial, banana nut-flavored Miami Herald morning news spots. LaPorta says he finds the WLRN-Herald joint reports useless, grating, and little more than marketing portals for the paper.

"I turn to WLRN for solace in the morning," explains LaPorta, 47. "For Bob Edwards's voice and a broader perspective. Not to hear the Miami Herald morning scandal sheet."

LaPorta's offer was declined by station fundraisers, he says, who explained to him they couldn't very well slam the Aqua Lady on the air. LaPorta says he donated $150 anyway, as he has done for most of the past two decades. "I consider WLRN a friend," he says. "You can tell a friend what they're doing wrong, right? I've been bitching about the Herald for twenty years. I was casting a vote to say: Here's my money where my mouth is."

Neither the station's Jeneissy Azcuy nor John Schuster, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Schools (which owns WLRN), could explain to The Bitch why LaPorta's money was no good. Rachel Blechman, however, chairwoman of the board of the Friends of WLRN, the station's private, nonprofit fundraising arm, took the dog by the leash. "The pledge drive is not used to advocate a position of any kind," Blechman says. "The station does offer many outlets for people wishing to express opinions."

The Miami-Dade County school board did something amazing this past Monday. It acted like a (mostly) unified front in voting to offer former New York City Chancellor Rudy Crew the superintendent's job. He's an outsider, which goes against 50 years of a tradition of appointing insiders. Crew is also a black man who was chosen over the Cuban American from Nashville, Pedro Garcia. Other than Marta Perez, still in the throes of her quixotic mission to become county mayor, none of the school board members played ethnic politics. "All things being equal, I would have voted for the Hispanic," remarked Agustin Barrera after the vote. "But they weren't. You've got one guy going from 70,000 students to 370,000 students and the other from 1.1 million students to 370,000. It was no contest."

What a change from the bloody, divisive brawls over Merrett Stierheim's appointment in 2001! Rumors flew in the days before the vote about what the board would do -- that there would be a last-minute attempt by some to keep Stierheim, that State Rep. Ralph Arza would stage a coup, that ol' Sol Stinson had something up his sleeve, that the board members would refuse the candidates and promote an internal lackey.

But they didn't. The first indication that the right thing was about to be done came when city Mayor Manny Diaz and his manager Joe Arriola (the former in suit, the latter in crisp white guayabera, both with knowing smiles) walked in the room. Must have been a sweet moment of victory for former district biz whiz Arriola, judging by his joyful expression and the brief look of annoyance on Stierheim's face.

Of course, being the school board, it couldn't just vote. First there was the pageantry and pontification to be done. Television channel WSVN-7's Brian Andrews leaned back, eyes glazed as he waited for the board to get to the actual voting part. "What brings you here, Brian?" asked one reporter, surprised that the TV hotshot was cooling his heels with the rest of the unfortunates. "I haven't covered the school board in five years," he answered tiredly. "But I've got a week left [before moving to another station] and they decide now's the time for me to come here."

Finally it was over. The board members seemed relieved that they had kept the tomfoolery quotient to a manageable level. Diaz and Arriola especially looked pleased. Arriola said he and his boss, who have been looking to take over and run the public schools within city limits, will back off now that Crew is likely the next superintendent. "We don't want to undermine this new guy," he said. No doubt getting the boy from New York City also fits neatly into the Diaz administration's desire to position Miami as an up-and-coming N.Y.C. of the Americas.

Geeky yet informative business weekly Miami Today recently bestowed its Bronze Award for "visionary leadership" to Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College. Padrón has also received further recognition, in the form of an investigation by the Florida Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The investigation was prompted by a whistleblower complaint filed in July 2003 by Adis Vila, MDC's former vice president for external affairs. She levied fifteen allegations of improper, and in some cases criminal, conduct by Padrón, college trustees, and other administrators. The most serious charge was that Padrón, private lawyer Rene Murai, and two MDC trustees were involved in a scheme to buy the Freedom Tower for an "inflated" price. In exchange, the sellers (the family of the late Jorge Mas Canosa) would make a two-million-dollar "donation" to the college's nonprofit foundation. According to some legal experts, such a scheme could have constituted fraud, official misconduct, bribery, and extortion, had the deal been consummated.

But get this: The OIG deemed this charge "unsubstantiated." Since the college eventually decided not to acquire the historic building, the report determined MDC did not use improper procedures in the Freedom Tower acquisition process. In addition, "since no purchase took place we cannot speculate if state funds were to be utilized."

Vila says the OIG report was "biased" in favor of Padrón and wonders what became of the twelve allegations the inspector general did not investigate. "All they say [in the report] is that they're not going to look into them," she complains.

Oddly enough, the OIG did aver another of Vila's charges -- that Padrón improperly transferred $9.5 million from the college's Community Endowment Fund to the MDC Foundation in early 2003. (His stated reason for that, according to college records, was to get a matching grant of state funds from the Florida legislature, which raises questions about the OIG's aforementioned insistence that it could not speculate about Padrón's intention to use state funds for the purchase.) The OIG said Padrón violated a state administrative rule when he transferred the $9.5 million. It concluded that MDC "may not be utilizing best business practices," and suggested the college could benefit from an "internal audit."

A request for comment from Padrón was answered by college assistant attorney Francine Steelman, who said MDC is preparing a formal response to the OIG report.

Sara Kim was so enamored of her Boston terrier, Bella, that she created an entire Website,, in honor of the black-and-white puppy. On April 17 Kim and boyfriend Elliot Silver walked Bella east on Lincoln Road to the beach. At the end of the serpentine brick path between the Ritz-Carlton and the Decoplage, Bella played in the sand around one of the palm trees bordering the walkway and the beach. Thirty minutes later, Bella convulsed and collapsed.

Silver, an attorney and real estate agent who lives in Surfside, rushed the puppy to the Pet House Clinic on Collins Avenue, but Bella was already dead. Dr. Oscar Paez-Castro performed a necropsy and found sand, grass, and an unidentified gelatinous substance in Bella's stomach. Her blood contained high levels of phosphorus -- a key ingredient in most fertilizers.

"I think the dog died from the fertilizer, and I think the city needs to fence off those trees," says Silver.

The property where the palms are planted is owned by the City of Miami Beach. The city's risk manager, Cliff Leonard, told The Bitch the puppy couldn't have been poisoned by the ground around the trees because the city uses a nontoxic fertilizer called Horta-Sorb. Leonard was unhappy to hear that, according to The Bitch's research, Horta-Sorb isn't a fertilizer -- it is a gel polymer intended to absorb water and fertilizer. Leonard eventually informed The Bitch the trees are fertilized with Agriform, a high-concentration, slow-release fertilizer tablet that contains nitrogen, potash, and phosphorus.

The sudden appearance on Monday of concrete dividers around each tree is "purely coincidental," according to city spokeswoman Nanette Rodriguez.

As our nation cycles through various primary-colored terror level alerts, rest assured that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Thomas Ridge are doing their utmost to prevent you from having, if not a yellow, orange, or red day, at least a green one. Earlier this month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, with local assistance from the Hialeah Police Department, paid a visit to Headquarters Tobacco & Gift Shop in the "City of Progress" and confiscated the store's entire inventory of glass pipes.

Owner Paul Cecil estimates the federales pinched $40,000 in glass bongs, crystal pipes, and other alleged drug paraphernalia from his shop, which is located near Hialeah's Westland Mall. It is no secret the federal government is cracking down on head shops and their suppliers. In 2003 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration launched operations "Headhunter" and "Pipe Dreams," which resulted in the indictments of 50 individuals, including comedian Tommy Chong. In late 2003 he was convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison on federal drug charges for distributing thousands of bongs and marijuana pipes across state lines via the Internet.

Cecil didn't suffer a Chong-like takedown. "They were very polite and no one got arrested," Cecil says of the U.S. Customs agents and Hialeah police. "Still my sales are down 50 percent. I don't know if I'm going to make it or not."

Joe Kilmer, spokesman for the DEA's Miami field office, says the agency and other federal law enforcement authorities are under orders from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to clean out from the retail market any glass pipes and other outlawed drug paraphernalia such as pipes disguised as soda cans. "The first round were the people who were supplying the head shops," Kilmer explains. "Now we're just going down the line."

The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau is about to unveil its new $450,000 "Get Laid Back" summer marketing campaign for Coconut Grove. In more ways than one it captures the essence of the enclave, where people who play together, play with public tax dollars together.

The "Get Laid Back" campaign is the brainchild of David Whitaker, the GMCVB's senior vice president of marketing and tourism, and Bruce Turkel, a local advertising executive.

Some in the Grove don't like it because they fear the mischievous will edit down the slogan to "Get Laid." Supporters counter that such revision would serve only to attract even more visitors to the Grove, whose "zany charm and energy are as potent as ever," at least according to the GMCVB Website (

The GMCVB, which receives millions of tax dollars from municipalities and Miami-Dade County each year, plans to lay out $200,000 for "Get Laid Back." The Coconut Grove Special Events and Marketing Committee and the Coconut Grove Parking Advisory Board have each spread $100,000 on the table. A cluster of hotels is springing for $50,000.

Who will get laid back in the Grove this summer is anyone's guess, but some of those getting paid back are already known. One is Elena Carpenter, zany publisher of Coconut Grove Times, who sits on one of the boards that appropriated public funds for the campaign. Carpenter is to receive $7000 for running Get Laid Back ads in her paper. "I abstained from that vote," she says in her defense.

Other recipients of Get Laid bucks include: Miami Herald, $105,000. South Florida Sun-Sentinel, $70,000. A local radio station, $50,000. Outdoor advertisers, $129,000, including producers of banners, bus bench signs, and bus billboards (get out your spray-paint cans!). Makers of coasters, bumper stickers, flyers, caps, T-shirts, postcards: $34,000. Photographers: $16,000.

Some media types who work or live in the Grove are offended they weren't invited to the advertising orgy. "We've supported the Coconut Grove business community for the entire year. Most of the stories we do are about Coconut Grove businesses and the business district. And then for them to put together a $450,000 ad campaign and we're not even mentioned in there, of course I said, 'You ungrateful sons of bitches!'" exclaims Ron Beasley, editor of the monthly Biscayne Bay Tribune.

Cindy Bettner, president of Best Tourist Publications, says she busted her butt putting out her colorful Best of Coconut Grove 2004 map, which includes 45 pages of ads, an events calendar, and other information. She wouldn't mind piggybacking on the $20,000 the campaign has budgeted to pay Ocean Drive magazine for the privilege of inserting a Coconut Grove tourist map into one or more of the glossy's summer issues. But she hasn't been able to get a meeting with Turkel or Whitaker to discuss that possibility. That could be because rival map publisher Marshall Steingold is slated to get the Ocean Drive ride. "It's a very small little clique. We call it the Coconut Grove marketing Mafia," Bettner grumbles. "I grew up in Coconut Grove. My family were pioneers. All I care about is helping the community."


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