Just four days before he was sworn into office as a North Miami Beach commissioner, Anthony DeFillipo was cruising north on Collins Avenue through Surfside in a white Buick SUV when a local cop pulled him over for a broken taillight. The officer quickly noticed a "strong smell of marijuana," according to a police report. He asked whether the 41-year-old property manager had any pot.
DeFillipo handed the Surfside cop a black container with a small joint inside. "[DeFillipo] stated he was smoking while driving because he was depressed," wrote the officer, who arrested DeFillipo and charged him with misdemeanor marijuana possession.
The May 2013 case, which prosecutors later dropped, had never been disclosed to local voters. But the incident is newsworthy now because DeFillipo wants to jump from the commission to become mayor of the city of 41,000, which has spent months reeling from wild political scandals.
In a Facebook post last Friday, DeFillipo threw his hat into the ring to replace former Mayor George Vallejo, who abruptly stepped down last week after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations after prosecutors caught him spending thousands in political donations on personal expenses.
DeFillipo declined to speak with New Times by phone about his arrest, but in a series of emails, he told a story different from the one Surfside officers outlined in their police report.
DeFillipo — who comes from a local political dynasty in the town where his father also served for years as a commissioner — was elected in May 2013. His tangle with Surfside cops came May 24, four days before he was sworn into office.
But he says the weed in his car wasn't his and he definitely wasn't smoking it while driving.
"The officer asked if he could look in my car. Of course I have nothing to hide. I said yes, and in searching through, one of my workers left in his lunch bag, and that had... a very small amount of marijuana. That’s what was found," DeFillipo writes in the email. "I smoke cigars, so that’s what the officer smelled. I explained to the officer I was depressed because my grandmother had passed away that day. That’s what I said. I stopped work early, and that happened on my way home."
He adds, "I was not arrested. I did not go to jail. I did not have anything on me... I did nothing wrong. I was never charged."
Court records, though, show he was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession. On December 5, 2013, prosecutors agreed not to pursue charges if he completed a pretrial diversion program.
The case isn't DeFillipo's only minor brush with the law. Court records show he was charged with a misdemeanor related to a minor in possession of alcohol in October 2012; details weren't available due to a filing error at the courthouse. DeFillipo says he believes the charges might be related to a case filed when he was a teenager that was mistakenly updated in court filings.
In 1990, the then-19-year-old DeFillipo was charged with petit larceny, a misdemeanor that was later dropped. He says the case was related to an argument over a pager after a fight.
DeFillipo says he hopes voters focus on his record in office over the past four years.
"I have been giving back in so many ways for years with toy drives, turkey drives, and helping people in my community," he writes. "I wanted to do so much more. This is why I have chosen to take the lead and move forward to be our next Mayor."
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DeFillipo has had missteps as a commissioner, though. In April 2017, New Times reported he shared fake news on Facebook about the Supreme Court supposedly banning Islam from public schools; the commissioner wrote, "America grew balls again!!" regarding the story.
DeFillipo also helped lead a successful charge to privatize North Miami Beach's water supply. Critics were concerned the deal was being rushed. It reportedly sparked investigations by the FBI and Miami-Dade's Public Corruption and Criminal Conspiracy Unit.
The City of North Miami Beach, meanwhile, is struggling to conduct even basic business in the wake of Vallejo's arrest. The mayor's resignation has left the city with only four sitting commissioners — one became city manager in North Bay Village (where she was promptly accused by the police chief of illegally firing him), and another was tossed off the commission for missing too many meetings. State law says cities need at least five commissioners to have a quorum.
The four remaining commissioners, including DeFillipo, met Monday to try to name a temporary replacement, but a challenge from lawyers representing Frantz Pierre — the commissioner kicked off for missing meetings — put an end to that plan, the Miami Herald reports. For now, virtually nothing can get done officially in the city government.