Miami and corruption have always gone together like cafecitos and pastelitos. In a state that routinely ranks in the top three in the nation for official financial shenanigans, Miami is the crown jewel of pilfering the taxpayer treasure chest.
But even in a town famed for its unscrupulous public servants, the Magic City has been outdoing itself in the past year. Here are five recent busts that show Miami-Dade County is still number one in shady leadership:
Even in the long and storied history of Latin American corruption bleeding into the Magic City, the allegations in the federal case against Moreno and a lawyer who allegedly helped him set up the scheme are startling. Moreno allegedly even traveled to the States to give an anti-corruption presentation to the feds just before taking bribes in Miami.
At the center of the case is a cooperating witness who helped lead a sting against Moreno. The feds identify the man only as a former governor of the Cordoba region; the Miami Herald IDs him as Alejandro Lyons Muskus, whom the paper published an unrelated story about last week. Muskus is reportedly wanted on 20 corruption charges in Colombia — and might even be tied to a political murder — but has been staying in Miami, where his wife is being treated for a high-risk pregnancy.
Muskus apparently saw an opportunity while in the States and approached the feds. He gave them tantalizing information: Moreno — the Colombian official leading the corruption case against him — had offered to "obstruct the corruption investigation" in exchange for a hefty payout: 400 million pesos, or roughly $132,000. Moreno had used a lawyer friend, Leonardo Pinilla, as a go-between.
In March 2016, FBI agents stormed Opa-locka City Hall and carted out reams of documents and piles of computers, capping what had been a two-year investigation into corruption and kickback schemes rampant at city hall. As it turns out, the city had wasted millions of dollars on needless parties, fancy meals, and SUV trips, draining city coffers and robbing the majority-black city residents of a functioning government. (The FBI probe was still open as of this past June, and more indictments are expected.)
On June 1, 2016, Gov. Rick Scott declared a "financial emergency" in Opa-locka, and appointed an entire board to sort through the city's legal and financial troubles. Also this past June, city officials told the Miami Herald they had made virtually no progress in 12 months.
In the meantime, multiple city officials have been convicted of criminal charges: Last November, then-City Manager David Chiverton was sentenced to three years in prison after he was caught in a sting taking a $2,500 cash bribe. Chiverton also reportedly weaponized the city's Code Enforcement division and used the enforcement agency to extort business for cash kickbacks, flooding businesses with code violations and taking illegal payments to remove the citations.
A Miami-Dade County Public Schools principal was arrested yesterday for allegedly using taxpayer money to pay his at-home nanny/housekeeper for two years before anybody noticed or bothered to tell the police.
Yesterday former principal Joey Bautista was arrested on charges of grant theft, misconduct, and organizing a scheme to defraud the public. The school district's inspector general took a look at Bautista's payroll records and noticed he'd hired a woman for a school custodial job but instead had her clean his home and watch his kids. All three charges, which were also investigated by Miami Beach Police and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, are felonies.
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The probe stems from alleged payments a Brazilian construction company made to a shell company in the United States to obtain the Dezer trademark. The Brazilian feds allege the shell company paid the "trademark licensor in the United States under a fraudulent foreign exchange contract so that it could then pay the German company." (That's based on a rough translation of the Portuguese-language news release.) The police allege this was done in order to "avoid higher costs" and Brazilian taxes.
"The Federal Police this morning (9/5) started Operation Connection Miami to dismantle a criminal organization responsible for practicing foreign exchange evasion through fraud in exchange for contracts and money laundering, including abroad," the Brazilian police wrote. "The total amount of fraudulently traded amounts for the U.S. alone may amount to R$ 13 million" in Brazilian reais, which is roughly $4 million in U.S. dollars.
The Brazilians announced they have sent requests abroad to interrogate "three foreign businessmen" — two American and one German. (It's unclear from the Brazilian news release whether the inquiry involves the Dezers.) The Brazilian group is charged with varying counts of fraud, "criminal association," and money laundering, and some members of the alleged ring could face more than a decade in prison.
Yes, that's the same David Rivera who has dodged two federal indictments, is the subject of another ongoing criminal probe, has been fined $58,000 by the state ethics board, and is generally such a huge embarrassment that his old friend Marco Rubio won't even be seen in the same zip code.
Even in Florida, there's never been a political comeback quite like what Rivera pulled off last night. GOP voters in the district, which covers a swath of Miami-Dade from Tamiami through Kendale Lakes into Richmond, gave Rivera a narrow win over businessman Anthony Rodriguez. Rivera won by only 187 votes, nabbing 36.03 percent of votes to Rodriguez's 34.03.
Apparently, those voters were totally cool with a political resumé that would make Frank Underwood curl into the fetal position.