The plot thickens in the Coral Gables Building & Zoning fraud probe, with a re-arraignment hearing held this past Tuesday to up the charges against former employee Jorge Reyes -- to north of $100,000 in funds allegedly stolen from the city. As Reyes awaits a March 2007 trial, the saga plays out in another public arena: City Hall Confidential, a blog maintained by the Coral Gables Gazette.
The blog has been a hotbed of gossip and scrutiny since the case broke in September. Anonymous writers with names like "boris," "the voyeur" and "city hall spy" continue to post on the scandal. Last month, Coral Gables Police confiscated the computer of City Hall employee Danilo Benedit, who works at the city's equipment yard, even though he maintained that his posting was done from his personal computer on his own time. Mayor Don Slesnick has even tried to impose a gag order to forbid city employees from posting, to no avail.
"The Beautiful City," an author who claims to "sit close to the office of the Director of B&Z in Coral Gables," the now-suspended Margaret Pass, wrote recently that "there were a lot of weird things happening in Margaret and Jorge's office almost on a daily basis."
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At the heart of the scandal — both on CHC and in the State Attorney's invetigation -- is Reyes, himself an unlikely contributor to the blog (though in the blogosphere it is impossible to confirm anyone's identity). You've got to admire the nerve of the guy even as you shake your head at such ill-advised posts as this: "As for calling me a drug user...TELL THAT TO MY FACE, YOU INTELLECTUALLY RETARDED MORON? STUPID GOSSIP-MONGER WITH NO OTHER INTEND BUT TO CATER TO THE HYSTRIONIC AND THE HYSTERICAL NATURE WITHIN US!"
But as the investigation has progressed, after taking an initial beating, Reyes seems to have become, in the eyes of several prolific posters, a scapegoat worthy of sympathy, his alleged crimes a symptom of a much wider corruption problem. "I'm actually cheering you on...I will help you too, Tell me where to look or what you need. I always said that this was more than just you..." writes boris. Adds ethical_jurist: "I think the new charges are absurb. (sic) If you were able to divert $100,000 without anyone's help/knowledge, you should start a company to consult corporations how to protect against theft!"
The Gazette reports that Coral Gables has requested a meeting with Reyes and his attorney on November 29. Look for more buzz in the local blogosphere soon thereafter.-Frank Houston