For the past couple of years, Norman Braman has carefully crafted his image as a do-gooder billionaire and civic activist by leading the recall of former Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez and, more recently, financing opponents against four sitting county commissioners because they saddled taxpayers with the Marlins Park boondoggle while raising property taxes. In an opulent display of his patriotic duty, Braman raised a half-million dollars to help his slate of candidates against Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan, and Dennis Moss.
But when it comes to sailing the high seas, he apparently ain't down with the Stars and Stripes.
Braman watched the results of the August 14 election (when only one of his candidates made a runoff election) aboard his 175-foot yacht, Kisses, while vacationing in Europe, the Miami Herald reported. Now, Riptide has learned that the vessel flies the flag of the Cayman Islands, with its home port registered as the country's capital city, Georgetown.
Why wouldn't Braman register his yacht in Indian Creek, where he lives? Because U.S. citizens who fly a foreign flag get tax advantages over boat owners who fly the American banner. For one, Braman most likely didn't have to pay a one-time Florida sales tax and an annual boat use tax when he bought Kisses.
"He probably saves a couple hundred thousand dollars a year from not paying the use tax," says a local tax attorney who asked not to be named.
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Braman also doesn't have to follow U.S. maritime laws that require him to use a boat crew from the United States. "It's a way to get around U.S. labor laws and hire foreigners for the vessel," the lawyer adds.
Fred Frost, governmental affairs director for South Florida Jobs With Justice, a political group that paid for ads on behalf of the county commissioners, says Braman is a hypocrite for not paying taxes on his boat.
"It may be legal, but it is un-American," Frost says. "He is basically telling the taxpayers to kiss his you-know-what."
Sheila Johnson, Braman's secretary, informed Riptide that her boss would not be available for comment until his return from vacation in mid-September.