Letters from the Issue of September 26, 2002
Too bad you screwed up the details: Once again New Times deserves to be commended for doing a public service by writing an in-depth article about public corruption ("Busted!" September 19). I would like to think that when it comes to political corruption we are all on the same page, but a few choice comments in the story almost make me feel as if that is not always the case. However, the Office of the State Attorney has not and will not engage in publicity-seeking when it comes to investigations and prosecutions of individuals who betray the public trust. Perhaps because we are reticent to speak openly about investigations or prosecutions, others tend to step up to grab the spotlight and in the process misinform the public about complicated cases. Allow me to provide you with some historical facts that will correct some errors in your article.
Your timeline on the Humberto Hernandez case was completely wrong. While Hernandez was indicted first on the federal case, his initial criminal trial was in state court for voter fraud. Prosecutors from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office convicted Hernandez in August 1998 and he was jailed. It was the momentum gathered after this conviction that led Hernandez to enter a guilty plea to the federal money-laundering and mortgage-fraud charges in September 1998.
A quick historical review will also show that Carmen Lunetta was acquitted in federal court. Following his federal case, Lunetta was convicted in state court on charges that had been held in abeyance by the State Attorney at the request of federal prosecutors. This is his only conviction. Although the state case involved only misdemeanor election-law charges, he was sentenced to six months of house arrest in that case, along with a significant fine. That is the only time Lunetta has effectively been "brought to justice" (to use your phraseology).
There also is no mention of the successful state prosecution of Gilda Oliveros, former mayor of Hialeah Gardens, who was sentenced to four and a half years in state prison (the case is presently on appeal).
Trying to bundle all corruption cases into one basket is to misinform your readers. As with any crime, different charges develop out of the particular evidence found in different specific situations. Some cases will be misdemeanors, as with former county commissioners Bruce Kaplan and Pedro Reboredo, and some will be felonies, as is the situation [involving former county commissioner Miriam Alonso] outlined in your story. To try to insinuate that officials charged with misdemeanor crimes deserved more, and that somehow the police or the prosecutors did not do their work, is a simplistic interpretation of the facts. Anyone trying to infer that is just misleading the public.
Ed Griffith, spokesman
Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office
Editor's note: Mr. Griffith is correct. Humberto Hernandez was charged by the State Attorney with fabricating evidence (a felony), conspiracy to fabricate evidence (a misdemeanor), and being an accessory after the fact (a second-degree misdemeanor) -- charges stemming from vote fraud during the 1997 Miami mayoral election. A jury acquitted him of the fabrication-of-evidence charges but convicted him as an accessory. He was sentenced to 364 days in jail. Former port director Carmen Lunetta pleaded no contest to charges he directed some $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions to numerous politicians. In addition to house arrest, he was fined $13,500. New Times regrets the errors.
And they did the same thing here: With regard to your story about the arrest of Leonel and Miriam Alonso, no surprise here ("Busted!" September 19). Leonel and Miriam were once first-line Fidelistas. He was Cuban ambassador to Lebanon, then when things were not going well, they allegedly stole all the money in the Cuban embassy and even sold the furniture and typewriters and were welcomed in Miami as heroes.
What do you expect from people like that?
It was a good idea to have Don Johnson work Sunday mornings: I was the film-permit coordinator for the City of Miami from 1979 to 1995, when I retired. In that period I fielded numerous outlandish requests for street closures. My response in the early stages of these requests was to object to the closure for one simple reason: The public outcry that was sure to follow would hurt the entire film community in the long run. All the opponents to filming on city streets would jump out of the woodwork and filmmaking would go one step forward and three steps backward, if you will.
During my sixteen years as film coordinator I considered it part of my job to look for and request alternative sites, whether they be in Central America or in Tampa. As a photographer for Dade County Tourism for five years in the early Seventies, I fully understood the theory of selling the city's skyline, but never at the expense of the people who live here. In the five years Miami Vice filmed in the City of Miami under my permits, we never had the problems Bad Boys 2 incurred on the MacArthur Causeway in one week. Why? Because we only let them do their chase scenes late at night and on weekends, preferably on Sunday morning.
Several times I heard from moviemakers: "I'll pack my bags and film elsewhere." My response was: "Sounds good to me. Let's not spoil it for the next guy." But just for the record, I wasn't always successful in thwarting outrageous street closures. Several times the project was just too big to go away, and I might have been caught in the same vise that nailed James Quinlan, as Brett Sokol reported in "Kulchur" ("Rebel Without a Causeway," September 12). One in particular was the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick [True Lies] that closed down Brickell Avenue for about three weeks.
But Brickell Avenue is not the MacArthur Causeway, and the people in that area were used to the Miami River bridge getting stuck in the up position or being repaired, so it wasn't as risky. The public seemed to accept it. Go figure.
George R. Detrio
The story is Pat Tornillo's rococo gewgaw: Thanks to Rebecca Wakefield for her informative story about Channel 10's Jilda Unruh and Pat Tornillo, head of the United Teachers of Dade ("Is Jilda Unruh Getting Stiffed?" September 5). However, as an outsider, the day-to-day skirmishes that make for an interesting newspaper article are not what I take away with me.
I don't know any teachers who have anything good to say about the union. I look at their new building and wonder how much money could have gone to each teacher in the system if it had not been built. I regard with distaste the idea that Mr. Tornillo and ten others make five times what a teacher makes. In other words, the whole system has become rococo, a fanciful gewgaw thingamajig with little relation to the ideas and ideals that created it long ago. The creation of a few rich and powerful people on the backs of hundreds of union members is a distortion.
With a scumbag for a client: Good for you, Jilda! Now that you've been bound and gagged by UTD's monkey lawyers, perhaps someone at New Times will pick up the reins and expose Pat Tornillo for the scumbag he is. Send him out the same door Roger Cuevas exited, but this time with no golden parachute!
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