In early 1998 the United States Attorney's Office in Miami announced it would more than double the size of its anticorruption unit, from six to twelve attorneys.
Just in time, too.
Federal and state prosecutors have been busy over the last twelve months following trails of money in the form of bribes, kickbacks, rip-offs, fines, questionable contracts, unreported income, and overbilling. Some of the probes led to Miami-Dade public servants. Others snagged business people who deal with local governments. A few cases have resulted in indictments.
It's refreshing to see that the pool of corrupters and corruptees is diverse. Among those accused of parlaying public position into payday is a group that would make former U.S. Interior Secretary James Watt proud: blacks, whites, Hispanics, and, er, others. Besides a love for tropical weather, the one interest these ethnically disparate individuals share, it seems, is money. Hard to believe? Consider a few of the year's most important dollar figures.
*$25,000 -- Kickback allegedly paid to Miami-Dade County Commissioner James Burke by San Francisco bond trader Calvin Grigsby for help in acquiring county bond business. Burke, his chief aide Billy Hardemon, and Grigsby were all indicted by federal authorities in January.
*$186,000 -- Total income county Commissioner Bruce Kaplan allegedly did not acknowledge in 1993 and 1994 financial disclosures. The issue came to light when prosecutors compared those forms with Kaplan's 1994 mortgage application. Kaplan resigned in March and agreed not to run again after pleading no contest to criminal charges of filing false financial disclosure forms.
*$32.28 -- Bill for six margaritas (tip not included) allegedly consumed this past September at Senor Frog's restaurant in Coconut Grove by Esther Hernandez, wife of former Miami City Commissioner Humberto Hernandez, and Attorney Jose Quinon, who defended "Humbertico" against voter fraud charges. After county Commissioner Jimmy Morales and others spotted the pair smooching, the couple admitted to having an affair during the trial. Quinon returned all of the former commissioner's legal fees, a tidy sum of $234,951.44.
*$62,000 -- Amount of income that Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office prosecutors say Reinaldo Villar, the county's former assistant director of permitting and zoning, never reported. "The vast majority was cash," said Assistant State Attorney Chet Zerlin. In April Villar pleaded not guilty to charges of official misconduct and computer tampering. (Trial pending.)
*$1.5 million -- Total funds allegedly misspent by former Port of Miami director Carmen Lunetta, et al. Among the expenditures:
--$120,000 siphoned to the Democratic National Committee through the port's crane operator, Fiscal Operations.
--$85,000 that was given to then-county Commissioner Art Teele.
--$75,000 allegedly stolen by Lunetta through the sham sale of his house.
--$39,799 in yearly salary paid to Hialeah council member Marie Rovira for a phantom job at the port. First she was jailed, then she was suspended from the council. Now she is preparing to defend herself in court.
--$19,858 to pay the life insurance premium of Calvin Grigsby, who runs Fiscal Operations.
--$82,000 in consulting fees paid to former Miami Mayor David Kennedy.
*$8400 -- Fee charged per year by Able Sanitation for rental and cleaning of dozens of portable toilets at MIA. According to a county audit, the costs for providing and maintaining the toilets soared way over budget. And apparently the toilets weren't cleaned very well. Competitors allege that Able received special consideration. Able officials deny the charge.
*$10 -- Amount paid for each vote by Jeffrey "Pop" Hoskins, a campaign worker for former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez. In November Hoskins pleaded no contest to three counts of selling his vote, a first-degree misdemeanor.
*$7706 -- Total Miami High School was fined for recruiting violations by its championship sports teams. Of fifteen players on last season's state champion varsity boys basketball team, fourteen hailed from outside the district. The Florida High School Activities Association stripped the hoops team, along with the baseball and soccer squads, of all victories, giving the three a combined record of 0-97.
*$1,735,637 -- The dollar figure Miami-Dade commissioners agreed to pay WEI Environmental Services of North Dade to build a car wash at MIA. The vote followed a report by Dade Aviation Consultants that stated the car wash shouldn't cost more than $704,000.
*$2 million -- Amount of allegedly false Medicare billings by two companies that prosecutors say were controlled by state Sen. Al Gutman. He was charged in June with 32 counts of Medicare fraud, money laundering, and witness tampering. His denial of the charges was so convincing he was re-elected to his Senate seat in November.
*$1.4 million -- Fee charged to the county for 135 miles of road striping which, according to prosecutors, was never completed. The bill was part of a $58 million contract awarded to the Miami firm of Church & Tower. The State Attorney's Office and the county attorney are investigating. Church & Tower has vehemently denied the charges.
*$7 million -- Approximate value of business over the last decade between Stein Paint and county government. Investigators found the company charged 88 percent more than the price agreed on when Stein won the contract. The county has suspended the contract pending a review.
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*$27,000 -- Value of goods allegedly stolen by a county sewage plant worker in November. The amount includes the price of a Chevrolet half-ton pickup truck owned by the county. The employee, who resigned, was charged with grand theft.
*$393,917 -- Waste Management Inc.'s bill for recycling pallets at MIA, on a contract the county had budgeted at $150,000. Airport officials declared the contract a bust.
*$700,000 -- Yearly budget for new county commission on ethics and trust. Sounds like a bargain.