When last we left the genteel citizens of Indian Creek Village, the hue and cry over the burg's twelve-man police department had nearly subsided. In February an independent audit commissioned by city officials had labeled the force "out of control" and recommended that Chief Rudy Piedra and his right-hand man, Sgt. Al Cerda, be terminated immediately. Authored by North Miami Beach Police Chief Bill Berger, the report noted that both men were the subject of criminal investigations by the Dade State Attorney's Office. Specifically, the audit implied that Piedra had committed insurance fraud and that Cerda had "received untaxed, unreported cash income" by working off-duty security for an island resident.
Such disclosures (detailed in two New Times stories this past March) had caused an uproar in Indian Creek, a 31-home enclave no more accustomed to harsh press coverage than it is to inconvenient tee times at the private country club that dominates the islet, west of Surfside in Biscayne Bay.
More recently, however, village manager Donald Lebrun and Mayor Kenneth Bagwell had resigned. And after a brief debate, the village council had opted to disregard Berger's exhaustive audit and award the embattled chief with a vote of confidence. End of melodrama.
Sadly, though, controversy has returned to the Village Affluent. And this time even the tabloids might be interested: these allegations involve nothing so mundane as corrupt cops. They involve sex.
The brouhaha began the morning of April 30, when officer Ron Kay is alleged to have made a lewd remark about Kathy Kartsonakis, the former village clerk who had applied for the vacant village manager post. His specific comment, according to two other officers, concerned her qualifications for the position. "One of the things to qualify, and this is very important, is how much head you can give in a short period of time," he supposedly opined.
Upon learning of the slight, Kartsonakis, who was serving as acting village manager, enlisted David Shankman, one of the city's labor attorneys, to conduct an internal affairs investigation. Shankman was able to secure two nearly identical affidavits from officers who swore they heard Kay's comment.
A third officer, Sgt. George Ledon, remembers being asked to give a statement in early May. "They asked me three questions: Did I hear any conversation on the morning of April 30? Were the qualifications for village manager discussed? And did you hear anyone make a comment about how much head an applicant can give? I just started laughing. I said, `You didn't really bring me in for this, did you?' But they were serious, so I told them I hadn't heard a thing," recalls Ledon, one of the few officers singled out for praise in the February audit.
A few days later Ron Kay received a letter informing him that a hearing would be held to determine his fate A with Kartsonakis as the presiding officer.
The news came as no surprise to Kay. The former New York cop says Chief Piedra had been trying to engineer his firing ever since Kay began complaining about the department's shoddy management. It was Kay, in fact, who spurred Berger's audit by presenting a litany of grievances to then-City Manager Lebrun last July. After that, Kay had been banished from the island and placed on "administrative leave." His orders were to stay in his home weekdays from nine to five A virtual paid house arrest.
Kay claims the harassment was constant after he returned to active duty in April. Village files show that he was reprimanded for offenses as trivial as making sarcastic comments. At the same time, Kay says, the corruption detailed in Berger's audit has continued. On April 21, for instance, Sergean Ledon filed a loitering and prowling report against his colleague Cerda. According to the report, Sergeant Cerda had been discovered hiding on a boat anchored behind one of the island's mansions, a house where he had previously worked off-duty as a security guard A which was against departmental rules. A routine license check revealed that the boat belonged to a Miami security company. Chief Piedra took no action.
Berger had noted the same double standard back in February. "It is apparent Chief Piedra failed to investigate obvious acts of misconduct committed by certain police officers, but instead initiated frivolous investigations into petty offenses committed by persons not loyal to him," the audit concluded.
On May 12 Kay and his attorney Greg Ross appeared at Indian Creek Village Hall for the hearing. Ross immediately objected to Kartsonakis's presiding over the proceedings, arguing that she was a party to the complaint and thus could not render an unbiased judgment. Village labor attorney Jim Crossland, on hand to advise Kartsonakis, brushed this concern aside.
Speaking in his own defense, Kay admitted he had made the statement, but claimed he had only been repeating the trash-talking of another officer who had been present, Steven Arboleda. "I was just repeating the punch line," he insisted. (Arboleda had claimed in his affidavit that Kay's comment had been unsolicited.)
Kay went on to assert that such banter about Kartsonakis was not uncommon. "I don't know if you know it, Kathy, but you have been considered promiscuous," Kay said. "I'm the one whose career is at stake. That's the only reason I'm bringing this dirty stuff up."
Ledon spoke next. He reiterated that he had not heard Kay's alleged comment on April 30, but that he, too, had been privy to rumors about Kartsonakis. Months ago, he explained, he and Cerda had watched Kartsonakis and the chief drive off together. He recalled that Cerda turned to him and said: "'Oh, he's gonna go fuck her.'" (Cerda denies making the comment.)
Another officer, Camilo Hernandez, said that he felt Kartsonakis had "come on" to him during a seminar they attended in 1992. Rudy Vidal, who was fired from Indian Creek this past September for fighting with Cerda, testified that for months he had actually conducted an extramarital affair with Kartsonakis, a relationship that ended just prior to his termination.
Ross then tried to question Kartsonakis directly. "Bullshit," Crossland growled. Ross then asked to cross-examine the officers who had accused Kay in affidavits. Crossland again forbade him. The discussion grew heated. Ross declared the hearing a sham, and alleged that Kay was being persecuted for whistle-blowing. "You three orchestrated this. You went ahead in ways prohibited by Florida statutes to try to get Ron [Kay] kicked off the department," he bellowed, pointing to Kartsonakis, Crossland, and Shankman.
"You have alleged conspiracy. I think you better back off, or you're going to get yourself in some deep trouble," Crossland replied.
"The record speaks for itself," Ross shot back.
A week later Kartsonakis sent Kay a rambling, four-page letter in which she denied all claims made by him and the other officers who spoke at the hearing. She also notified him that he was fired. Last week Kay and other disgruntled officers met with Ross to discuss suing Indian Creek Village. "I hoped it wouldn't come to this," Kay says now. "But we're not going to let them steamroll us."
Meanwhile, the various investigators who once swarmed the lushly appointed isle are still considering their options. State prosecutors are mulling whether to press charges against Piedra and Cerda. The Internal Revenue Service is reportedly also investigating the two men in connection with tax evasion. And this week Florida Department of Law Enforcement local chief Larry Boemler will be visiting Indian Creek to inspect records. "There are issues raised in Bill Berger's audit that I need to verify," Boemler says. "I need to do some fact-finding."
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The village council, apparently, is all through with its fact-finding. Two weeks ago council members hired Kartsonakis as village manager, at $41,000 per year. Kartsonakis, a graduate of Killian High School, beat out two candidates with master's degrees in urban planning.
"We want to wipe out the past and start from now," council member Anne McDougal explains. "We've got a new mayor and two new councilors. You're going to see a much more cohesive and vocal council."
At least one legacy of the old regime remains, however: North Miami Beach Police Chief Berger and his investigators are still owed about $12,000 for four months of reviewing police records and taking sworn statements.
"I never asked for the job," Berger sighs. "Jim Crossland came to me because of my integrity. If the council wants to ignore my conclusions, that's their business. But they can't ignore my contract.