North Bay Village's mayor has a homestead problem. While claiming to reside in the small three-island city, Corina Esquijarosa has been receiving a $25,000 homestead exemption on an apartment she rents out to a man named Osmary Ramos. In order to get the tax break, Esquijarosa is required to live inside the one-bedroom unit at the River Lofts Condominium at 1021 NW Third Street -- not North Bay Village. She is not supposed to be leasing the unit either.
"It's just part of the tangled web of lies this gal has played," says part-time North Bay Village resident and civic activist Fane Lozman. "She's defrauding Miami-Dade taxpayers of what she is really supposed to be paying on a property she is using for a commercial purpose."
The wiry political agitator, whose dogged muckraking led to the arrest of four North Bay Village elected officials in the earlier part of this decade, provided Riptide with other examples of Esquijarosa's alleged deceit.
For instance, she omitted crucial information on her financial interests disclosure statement including a foreclosure against her and her husband Manuel by Suntrust Bank. The Esquijarosas stopped paying the $138,000 mortgage on separate River Lofts condo they owned. The lender won a final judgment against the couple in May of last year. What's more, Esquijarosa failed to put down her homestead property, which is also in foreclosure.
Banana Republican contacted Ramos, who says Esquirosa's husband rented him the apartment the same month she took office. "He charged me $675 a month and told me that it was not in foreclosure," Ramos says. "I subsequently found out that it is being foreclosed."
Manuel Esquijarosa says that he and his wife made an honest mistake. "Who remembers to call the property appraiser's office to take off the homestead exemption," he says. "We were contacted by a lady from the county and we sent her the information that we no longer live there." He declined to discuss the foreclosures. "That stuff is private," Manuel says.
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Lozman says Esquijarosa would not have won the election had she disclosed her lawsuits. The first time political candidate won by six votes this past November. "As a city of Miami employee, she should know better," Lozman gripes.
The mayor, who receives a $98,000 annual salary and benefits package as a senior project representative for Miami's Public Facilities Department, dismissed Lozman's criticism. She explained she believed that she did not have to list the foreclosure since the bank auctioned off the property before she filed to run. "I have since filed an amended financial disclosure form that lists the judgement," she says. "It wasn't intentional."
Esquijarosa, who moved to North bay Village in February 2009, accuses Lozman of trying to provoke a confrontation but that she won't play along. "I've read up on Mr. Lozman," Esquijarosa says. "I'm familiar with the way he operates so I won't get sucked in."