Eight City of Miami officials and members of local charities were arrested today on corruption charges.The busts involved an array of unrelated scams -- and come as the city's finances are under intense scrutiny by federal officials.
Mayor Tomas Regalado portrayed the arrests as the culmination of his promises to clean up city government.
"This is not another scandal. This is not another black eye for the city," Regalado said to a packed crowd at police headquarters. "This is something we promised the people of Miami to look into the wrongdoing in all departments of the city."
Among those charged were Miami police officers Daniel Fernandez, accused of official misconduct and theft, and David Valentin, nailed for official misconduct, theft, and perjury. They allegedly threatened tenants of an Overtown apartment building who were behind on their rent.
Also arrested were four members of groups that get money from the city. Two of them were employees of a nonprofit called the Alternative Program: Johnnie Brown and Vincent Cobham; both were program officers.
The other non-profit is called Vecinos En Acción; its president is Laura Gonzalez and its treasurer is Fernando Gonzalez. Both groups work with criminals sentenced to court-mandated service. Miami police chief Miguel Exposito alleged the four had falsified paperwork in exchange for hundreds of dollars in bribes.
Deputy director of the city's General Services Administration, Alex J. Martinez, was charged with grand theft and official misconduct. He allegedly used city employees to do work on his home and houses belonging to family members. Martinez is still at large. Police have not been able to locate him.
Another Miami cop faces federal civil rights charges for allegedly stealing a debit card from a car crash victim and hundreds of dollars from a bank account. Officer Christian Alvarez-Vega, a 37-year-old with 12 years on the force, responded to a car crash on January 11 and helped transport an injured victim to the hospital, according to a federal indictment.
Alvarez-Vega later realized the victim had left a credit card on his front seat. Rather than returning it, he called the victim and said he needed the card's PIN number as part of the investigation. Then he took the card to a grocery store and withdrew $460.
Alvarez-Vega appeared in federal court earlier today. He's now free on a $150,000 bond.
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Exposito says all the busts were sniffed out by his department's new public corruption unit and the FBI, which recently elected Mayor Tomas Regalado urged to crack down on malfeasance in the city. At his swearing-in ceremony, Regalado made a point of introducing John Gillies, the special agent in charge of Miami's FBI field office. Gillies is something of a specialist in public corruption cases.
City finances are also presently being probed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Some have predicted a city bankruptcy is in the offing.
Skeptics wonder whether the busts were part of a political move to distract attention from that more pervasive problem.