Jean Monestime pushes $3 million grant to felon for questionable Liberty City project
Are you looking for taxpayer money from Miami-Dade County for a questionable project, but you've been convicted of felony tax evasion and a misdemeanor attempt at boarding an airplane with a loaded gun? No problem!
At least it's not a problem for Yoram Izhak, a commercial property owner who recently scored a $3 million grant to repave roads, install new lights, and add landscaping at a rough-around-the-edges shopping center at NW 79th Street and 27th Avenue in Liberty City. The work will supposedly attract a national department store to the long-struggling neighborhood, but neither the developer nor the county will say what chains they've lined up to move in.
The county commission unanimously approved the deal without discussion January 24, though the plan's original sponsor, Jean Monestime, pulled his name and withheld his vote at the last minute when the Miami-Dade ethics commission ruled he had a conflict of interest.
Izhak owned the center's parent company until late last year, when he transferred control to his wife and three business partners. Izhak also owns 50 percent of M.I.A. Properties, which leases office space to Monestime — a business relationship that put him at conflict, the ethics board ruled.
Monestime's colleagues were apparently as untroubled by the sponsor's conflict as by Izhak's record.
In 2004, the businessman pleaded guilty to tax evasion in Miami federal court. A year earlier, he pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor gun charge after screeners at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport discovered a loaded .38 Special inside his carry-on briefcase.
Riptide could not reach Izhak, but his attorney, Glenn Widom, says the half-decade-old convictions have nothing to do with Izhak's ability to turn around the shopping center. And Izhak had to pay only $75 in court assessments for his crimes, Widom adds. "I can see no reasonable relationship between his criminal charges and Northside Centre other than subjecting Mr. Izhak and his family to embarrassment," he says. "This is simply not newsworthy."
Monestime also stands behind the deal. "The developer is investing $3 million in addition to the grant for a rundown property next to a poor community," he says.
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