Otis Wallace's Shady Web: A Guide To This Week's New Times Investigation
This week's profile of Otis Wallace raises serious questions about corruption in Florida City, from accusations of bribery and secret real estate deals to stolen votes. The article also reveals for the first time FBI and Miami-Dade investigations into the mayor and his administration.
To help you sort through the evidence, we've put together a list of important players, including some that we didn't include in our feature.
So make yourself a stiff weekend drink, sit back, and taste the abuse of power!
When Darin Baldwin first tipped off investigators to what was going on in Florida City in December of 2009, the then public works director mailed copies of his tell-all letter to the FBI, Miami-Dade Police, and Governor Charlie Crist's office. But Baldwin also sent a copy to the Miami-Dade County Commission, to which Wallace's older sister -- Barbara Jordan -- was elected in 2004.
We spoke to Jordan about her and Otis's childhood in Florida City for our feature. But when we rang her back yesterday to ask about the FBI investigation into Wallace, she said she had another call waiting. Click! She didn't call back and didn't return our request for comment.
>Wallace, meanwhile, insisted that he was unaware of any investigation into him or his administration until confronted with documents by New Times.
Wallace and Jordan's younger sister, Sandy Walker, was a longtime county lobbyist until she was arrested in 2007 and charged with fraud. Walker pleaded guilty to bilking the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust by submitting false tax returns under a $200,000 loan agreement with the nonprofit anti-poverty agency.
Wallace, Jordan, and Walker were all involved in a controversial 2005 vote to let Florida City annex land for development.
The mayor of Homestead didn't feature in our investigation, but Bateman co-manages a company called Golden Boys Enterprise, LLC with Otis Wallace and construction contractor David Berrones. Bateman and Berrones were accused of insider deals in October in regards to another company they have registered together: Golden Land Holdings. It's unclear if Golden Boys and Golden Land Holdings are related.
Barrett was the first of of many Florida City directors to come under scrutiny during Otis Wallace's tenure. A close friend and real estate partner of Wallace's, Barrett was commended for helping rebuild Florida City after Hurricane Andrew. But the building and zoning director quickly came under investigation. County officials discovered that Florida City inspectors had never reviewed the designs for a $20 million mall. Even worse, they found that plans for an entire neighborhood had never been filed. The shady subdivision was the Village of Palm Bay, where Wallace and his family were living.
Barrett refused to cooperate with the investigation. He resigned a month later, citing heart problems. Neither Barrett nor Wallace was charged.
As we outline in our feature, Mesa -- another former Florida City building and zoning director -- is accused of taking bribes from businesses seeking permits and contracts. According to Baldwin and others interviewed by the Miami Dade Police, Mesa kept some of the money for himself and passed along the rest to Wallace and other city officials.
Our investigation also found evidence that Mesa bought cheap land while still Florida City's building and zoning director, had the land rezoned as residential, and sold it just weeks later for a four-fold profit.
Mesa has denied all the accusations against him.
Matthew Price II:
Price, a former housing director, seems to be the only one of Wallace's employees that went to jail for actions committed while working in Florida City government. He was arrested in 2007 and admitted to pocketing $10,000 for steering a $4 million contract to a friend. He also copped to fraudulently acquiring a mortgage, collecting rent on city property, and flipping city land for a personal profit. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Wallace was never charged in the case and indeed points out he fired Price months earlier.
In his sworn testimony to Miami Dade Police and the FBI, Darin Baldwin claimed community development director William Kiriloff was involved in taking bribes and awarding contracts or permits to friends. Kiriloff killed himself last November.
Baldwin and another MDPD source accused Wallace's longtime finance director of falsifying documents to benefit the mayor and funneling illicit funds to Kiriloff and Mesa. Ben-Asher has never been charged with a crime and denies any involvement whatsoever. He says he was instrumental in Baldwin's firing, as well as the investigation into Matthew Price II.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.