Prisoners of Their Own Circumstance

What are the odds that Miller Dawkins and Cesar Odio will be bunkmates in prison? And if they are, will Dawkins continue to order Odio around the way he did when he was a Miami commissioner and Odio was the city manager? Or will the big house instill a new social order in their relationship?

For instance, will Dawkins have learned enough prison lingo by the time Odio arrives to refer to him as "new fish?" Will they pump weights together in the prison yard, make shivs out of spoons, and join a gang? Will they bribe the screws with cigarettes -- just to keep in practice?

And suppose there's a race war in the cell block: Will caged heat envelop the two former city officials, forcing them to square off, or will Odio turn to Dawkins and ask, as he once inquired of another: "Are you going to protect me? That's all I want to hear. Because I will do the same."

Unfortunately, few can predict the future. Wilfredo Fernandez, the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, says he does not know if Odio will be sent to the same West Kendall prison camp where Dawkins is currently incarcerated. "That decision will be made by the Bureau of Prisons," he explains. "But given the nature of the offense and the fact that he is from Miami, if there is space available, that is probably the most likely place for him." As for the likelihood of Odio and Dawkins becoming screw-bribing roommates, Fernandez says, "I don't want to get into that at all."

Dawkins and Odio certainly deserve each other. Last week, Dawkins began serving a 27-month sentence for accepting $100,000 in bribes during the FBI sting known as Operation Greenpalm. Two weeks ago, Odio pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and now faces up to ten years in prison, although the standard range for his offense is between ten and sixteen months.

When U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore delivers Odio's punishment on August 20, he should remember Odio's lack of remorse just ten minutes after pleading guilty. Standing on the courthouse steps, a battery of cameras and microphones arrayed before him, Odio declared: "Believe me when I tell you I did not let anybody down."

Exactly who is it that Odio didn't let down? He couldn't have been referring to the citizens of Miami. Setting aside for a moment his criminal conduct, it was Odio's incompetence that brought the city to the verge of bankruptcy. Odio wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money padding the city's payroll with friends and political hacks. He treated the city's finances as if they were his own private slush fund. And he made every effort to keep the city's financial problems a secret.

Didn't he also let down his family, particularly his wife and his mother, by bringing disgrace to his name? Or does Odio have so little honor that those things mean nothing to him? He certainly let down his fellow Cuban Americans. Indeed, Odio's betrayal of his own people is staggering. After he was indicted, Odio ran to the Spanish-language radio stations to cry about how he was being wrongly accused and that he was innocent. Nowhere during those programs did he mention lying, obstructing justice, or conspiring to take money -- all of which he has since acknowledged doing. At a press conference last September in his lawyer's office, Odio declared: "I have nothing to hide. The facts will prove me right." Instead the facts now prove him to be a felon.

At least when Dawkins was caught he had the decency to keep his mouth shut. Dawkins could have easily played on the fears and the anguish of the black community by appearing on WMBM-AM (1490) and arguing that he was being wrongly accused because of his race.

Yet Odio and his supporters continue to exploit the loyalty of the Cuban-American community and undermine their faith in the justice system by suggesting that Odio, despite his plea, is not guilty but is instead a martyr. "I haven't changed my opinion whatsoever," declared Cuban American National Foundation president Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez the day after Odio admitted guilt. "I still feel he is innocent of these charges and that he had no choice but to plead guilty because of the pressure placed on him and his family. This man was caught in a situation he did not want and it is sad that justice must rely on a crook to entrap a man who has served this community for seventeen years."

Odio and his allies are attempting to rewrite history based on the deal that the erstwhile city manager made with federal prosecutors. Hernandez and others are quick to point out that Odio did not plead guilty to any of the corruption charges, merely obstruction of justice. A closer reading of the facts shows this reasoning to be as faulty as Odio's ethics. Although under the plea bargain the corruption charges were dropped, Odio was still required to admit in court that he did in fact conspire to receive kickbacks from a city insurance contract.

Besides, the very nature of the obstruction of justice charge also betrays his claimed innocence. If he hadn't been engaged in an illegal activity, why did he ask people to lie about what he had done? And let's not forget the tapes of Odio counting out the money he received.

Hernandez says that even after reading the damning transcripts of those tapes in the Herald he remains unconvinced. "I don't see that there was any case against him," Hernandez claimed. "I still believe he is an honest man."

A long-time friend of Odio, Hernandez has been raising money to pay Odio's attorneys' fees and any fines he might face. Hernandez says he issued between 100 and 120 letters seeking financial support for Odio and claims to have received "a substantial positive response," although he won't say how much was raised. "Our goal was $250,000 and I think we were pleased by the result," he says, adding he would now turn his attention to drumming up letters of support for Odio that can be presented to the judge prior to sentencing.

As it turns out, Odio isn't the only criminal with a new bank account opened in his honor. As part of his sentence, Dawkins was ordered to repay the $30,000 in bribes he received during the sting. (Although Dawkins accepted $100,000, he pocketed only $30,000. He gave the rest to Howard Gary to invest for him without realizing that Gary was an undercover informant for the FBI.)

Several months ago, the federal government received its first check toward restitution. Drawn on an account at Peoples National Bank of Commerce for $5000, the check was from the "Miller Dawkins Defense Fund." It was signed by Castell V. Bryant, who is the president of Miami Dade Community College's north campus. Bryant said she opened the account at the request of Dawkins. "He came to me with several checks that people had written to him and asked me to be responsible for putting these in the bank," she explains. She does not recall how many checks Dawkins gave her or who they were from.

Bryant, who has been friends with Dawkins for more than ten years, says she has not been involved in any sort of fundraising and is merely acting as a custodian for the account. She says there is one other person authorized to write checks on the account, but she adds she cannot remember that person's name, only that it was a local minister. Bryant claims she has not reviewed bank statements for the account and does not know how much money is in there.

She recalls writing two checks: one to the federal government for $5000 and one to Dawkins's attorney, Jesse McCrary, for approximately $2000. If Dawkins is relying on friends and supporters to help pay off some of the money he owes the government, what did he do with all of the bribe money he received? "I don't know what he did with the money, and I never asked him," replies McCrary. "As far as I was concerned, it was none of my business."

It would seem likely, however, that the single greatest expense in Dawkins's life between the time he took the money and the day he pleaded guilty in court were his legal fees. And as McCrary is fond of pointing out, his services do not come cheap. He would not disclose how much money he has charged Dawkins, except to describe it as "big dollars, lots of money" -- obviously more than the $2000 the defense fund provided. Which could explain why McCrary has shown an amazing lack of curiosity when it comes to his client's financial transactions; as McCrary is well aware, it is against the law for an attorney to knowingly accept illegally obtained money from a client.

In addition to defense funds, something else that Odio and Dawkins have in common is their refusal to help federal prosecutors root out other corrupt individuals at city hall. Not only did they refuse, they made a point of making sure everyone knew they would not cooperate, as if this somehow makes them men of respect, instead of what they really are -- criminals with misplaced loyalties.

"Believe me when I tell you I did not let anybody down," Odio said. Apparently the only people Odio did not let down were his fellow libertines. And if Odio and Dawkins ever do become bunk-bed buddies in prison, perhaps they can pass the time comparing notes on all the people they are protecting.


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