Hialeah Housing Authority Executive Director Julio Ponce speaks with a volunteer at Julio Robaina campaign HQ.
Hialeah Housing Authority Executive Director Julio Ponce speaks with a volunteer at Julio Robaina campaign HQ.

Well-Paid Hialeah Cop Gets Free House From Hialeah Housing Authority

Raleigh Flowers lives in a three-bedroom condo with brand-new kitchen cabinets and freshly painted walls in a lushly landscaped residential development in west Hialeah. It is certainly a home fit for a Hialeah Police major earning at least $3,500 every two weeks. Except this cop doesn't have to pay rent. Flowers gets the unit for free from the Hialeah Housing Authority (HHA), even though the major already owns a two-bedroom house in the city of Miami, which he leases to a woman who pays a large portion of her $900 monthly rent with a federal government-funded subsidy.

So not only does Flowers get a free pad, but also he is earning a profit from a program meant to help folks who can't afford to pay for a home on their own. Flowers could not be reached for comment. But the Hialeah Housing Authority's executive director, Julio Ponce, tells Riptide he has no idea how a high-ranking officer could get such a sweetheart deal. "You are going down an avenue I have no knowledge of," Ponce says. "I didn't make the decision."

The HHA has a federally approved program that provides free living quarters to rank-and-file cops in units owned by the city's housing agency. Joel Bonilla, HHA's public housing director, says an officer's personal finances are not taken into consideration to qualify for the program. However, he did not explain why Flowers was picked over other officers on the waiting list.

According to Ponce's predecessor, Alex Morales, a police presence is meant to deter crime on HHA residential properties while allowing affordable-housing residents to build a rapport with the city's finest. Officers are expected to report any possible crimes and are not allowed to sublease their rent-free units. "It is a good program," Morales says. "However, it was never envisioned to go to commanders, deputy chiefs, or majors."

It seems Flowers and Morales go back. Flowers headed the cops' internal affairs division, which last year investigated Morales, an enemy of Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina. Ponce is Robaina's longtime friend, former business partner, and volunteer on his campaign for county mayor.

"Robaina and Ponce used Raleigh for their shenanigans," Morales says. "After I was fired, they had Raleigh sweep HHA headquarters for bugs. I find it ironic that Ponce now claims he doesn't know anything about the major's living arrangement."

According to HHA records, Flowers was approved for the condo this past March 10, one day after Ponce began his job as executive director. But Ponce insists he was not involved, claiming he was on jury duty for the first two days of his employment. "I didn't know Raleigh was involved with the program," Ponce says. "I don't even know the other officers who are in it."

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