In Miami Beach, a storm is brewing over accusations that city officials strong-armed the New World Symphony to give them free tickets to concerts. But Beach leaders aren't the only politicians accepting free seats.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and city commissioners have accepted thousands of dollars worth of tix to Miami Heat games and a Don King-promoted boxing event, blogger Al Crespo has discovered. And none of those tickets were reported as gifts per the county ethics code.
Crespo did some fine reporting with Freedom of Information Act requests and found that Regalado, his staff, and his family accepted free Heat tickets on at least two occasions.
On December 13, Regalado attended a game with his daughter, new Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado, his son Tommy Regalado, his aide Ada Rojas, and his sergeant at arms.
Then, on December 28, Regalado accepted six tickets to sit in a box seat owned by Office Depot, which was sponsoring free tickets for at-risk youth for the game. (Where Regalado, incidentally, posed for a photo with none other than Sean Penn, Hugo Chavez's BFF.)
None of those tickets were reported as gifts, though the Miami-Dade Code of Ethics requires any gift from one source that tops $100 per quarter to be reported.
Pat Santangelo, Regalado's spokesman, confirms that the mayor attended the games, but says he did so primarily to back Office Depot's program for young fans. "Honestly, he only went because we made him go," Santangelo says. "He's not out there soliciting these tickets because he wants to watch games at American Airlines."
What's more, Crespo discovered that when Don King held a "Tribute to Freedom" boxing match on December 17 at the arena, he handed out 34 gratis tickets for city staff, five to Regalado's office, four tickets for each member of the city commission and a couple tickets for Police Chief Miguel Exposito and fire Chief Maurice Kemp.
Crespo estimates the total value of the tickets at up to $12,000 -- yet again, none of the tickets were reported as gifts.
Santangelo says the mayor's office accepted the tickets because they wanted to help King get a new boxing league off the ground in Miami. The match was sparsely attended, Santangelo says, and only 20 or so staffers from the city showed up.
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"We're in favor of any new business coming here and we're willing to work with anyone who has a good idea," Santangelo says. "There ended up being a lot of room at this match, so it's not like we were taking extremely sought after tickets for our own benefit."
Santangelo says there's no parallel to the situation in Miami Beach, where ethics officials are investigating whether officials withheld millions in grants to get the highly sought after tickets to the symphony.
"In my opinion, the mayor wasn't attending these events for his personal gain," Santangelo says.