When the Flak Flies, the Flack Flees
Three weeks after withdrawing his name from consideration for the job of Miami Beach Police Department public information officer, Jack Sullivan still feels betrayed. When he first submitted his application for the newly civilianized post in September, he knew he was walking into something of a war zone: Relations between the city administration and the police department were -- and still are -- strained at best. Even so, says the retired City of Miami police major, the last thing he expected was vocal opposition from his onetime brothers in arms.
"I thought that if there were any problems, I would get a call from the Miami Beach FOP [Fraternal Order of Police], at least as a professional courtesy," says the 61-year-old Sullivan, a former Miami FOP president who for the past eleven years has worked as a security consultant and private investigator. "Obviously they didn't want to do that. I don't know what their problem was."
Police union leaders in Miami Beach say their problem has never been a secret: They were concerned about Sullivan's involvement in one of Dade County's most notorious political-corruption scandals of the past twenty years. Both Sullivan and the Miami Beach city administrator who wanted to hire him, however, insist that decade-old ghost became an issue only because of the Beach FOP's sour relationship with City Manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa.
Gus Sanchez, a Miami Beach police detective who is also vice president of the Miami Beach FOP, says that shortly after Sullivan put in his bid for the job, he was given a copy of an old Miami Herald story describing the applicant's role in the case of Alberto San Pedro, a Hialeah developer and political power broker known as "the Great Corrupter," whose sensational trials on counts of bribery, cocaine trafficking, and conspiracy to commit murder continued well past his initial arrest in 1986.
In April of that year Sullivan retired from the Miami Police Department amid an internal investigation undertaken after he'd been seen dining and speaking with San Pedro on more than one occasion. Though the probe was dropped when he retired and Sullivan was never charged, Sanchez says the conversations with San Pedro and his associates, some of which were tape-recorded by investigators, gave him pause. (San Pedro was freed in 1989, having been incarcerated for a total of three years and nine months; prosecutors have been trying unsuccessfully to indict him on similar charges since 1991, and most recently failed in an attempt to have him deported to his native Cuba.)
"I was appalled that the city would consider this type of candidate," says the Miami Beach detective, who took his concerns up the chain of command, eventually calling Assistant City Manager Joseph Pinon, who told him that the Sullivan hiring would go through "pending a background investigation." On October 10 Sullivan was given a conditional offer of employment: Essentially, once the necessary checks were finished, the job was his.
"When [Pinon] named Jack Sullivan as a candidate for PIO, I was waiting for him to name the Miami River Cops as our civilian internal affairs investigators," sneers Ofcr. Dennis Ward, Miami Beach's FOP president. "I think it was a direct shot at weakening the whole police department."
Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto says he's not surprised the union made an issue of Sullivan's application. "There are people who do not like change, period," Barreto notes. "For that reason alone, there would be people who yell and scream that Sullivan is a reason not to do this [civilianize the PIO job]." But Barreto isn't at all reluctant to attribute the heightened emotions to another cause as well: the fact that his officers have been working without a union contract since September 30.
The union took its displeasure to the television airwaves: When he was interviewed for a story on WPLG-TV (Channel 10), Sullivan said he had nothing to hide about the San Pedro case and that the Beach FOP was using him to pick a fight with the city administration.
Regarding the latter theory, he may have a point. The civilian job of Miami Beach public information officer was created in the wake of the Andrew Cunanan case, after long-time PIO Al Boza had announced to the entire world late one night in July that the infamous houseboat on Indian Creek was empty, when in fact it contained the corpse of the prime suspect in the murder of Gianni Versace. With most of the entire world still watching, Jose Garcia-Pedrosa busted Boza from his post and announced that his successor would be a civilian rather than a sworn officer.
In another move intended to free up police officers from administrative duties and get them out on the street, the city manager proposed a similar civilianization scheme for the department's internal affairs unit. Although Chief Barreto responded testily to these moves at first, he and Garcia-Pedrosa have since tried to smooth over any indications of a feud. But the union sees the actions, which turn over key jobs to nonunion personnel, as attempts to discredit the department and weaken its bargaining position in contract negotiations, and spokesmen have freely taken potshots at the manager and his top administrators, and sometimes at the chief as well.
Animosity notwithstanding, the department had to find a new PIO. Though Boza has continued to perform the chores and will do so until a civilian replacement is found, the hiring of a civilian PIO at a salary of $35,000 per year was included in the city's 1997-98 budget. Pinon, who oversees the police department, says he got several calls and resumes but that Sullivan's credentials made him the clear front-runner.
Then came the background check, a requirement for any police hire. On October 7 Det. Gerard Mackey commenced his investigation of Sullivan, scrutinizing files from the City of Miami, soliciting letters from and interviewing people who know him, and undertaking the arduous journey through the roomful of documents relating to the San Pedro case in storage at the FBI's local offices.
When Mackey compared his findings to the personal-history questionnaire Sullivan had filled out, he found several discrepancies. For instance, while Sullivan stated that he'd never been the subject of a police investigation, Mackey discovered that both the Miami Police Department's internal affairs unit and Metro-Dade's Organized Crime Bureau had opened probes into his involvement with San Pedro. Also, Sullivan had told Mackey that the San Pedro matter had not led to his being relieved of duty, but the investigator learned from an interoffice memo that Sullivan had been relieved of duty on March 24, 1986, "pending an internal security investigation." Sullivan further told Mackey that he had spoken to San Pedro only in his capacity as PIO, but his personnel file clearly showed that he had been transferred from the Public Information Office to uniform patrol on November 10, 1985 -- before any of his documented conversations with San Pedro took place.
Yet another inconsistency: Sullivan told Mackey that he hadn't applied for a police job since his retirement. In fact, he put in his name for civilian PIO with the Hollywood Police Department in 1988. And although the police chief in Hollywood at the time was his friend Richard Witt (a former Miami police officer who is now chief of police in Golden Beach), Sullivan didn't get the job. Witt says today that the San Pedro case might have been a factor in that decision, but he also recalls that "[Sullivan] did not do well in the interview process."
These problems were enough for Barreto, who signed Mackey's report with the recommendation "Do Not Hire."
That was on October 23. But Garcia-Pedrosa never got around to making a final decision on the recommendation. When Sullivan withdrew his name from consideration on October 31, he was still officially a candidate for the job.
Both Sullivan and Pinon insist union pressure goaded Mackey to dig deeper than he might have ordinarily. In reference to the discrepancies, Sullivan says he didn't note Hollywood as a police-agency application because the position was civilian. He adds that regardless of whether he was a PIO at the time, all his meetings with San Pedro were directly related to his job.
"They were looking for reasons not to hire me," he insists. "It's all innuendo, it's all political fallout. I got into the middle of a pissing contest."
Scoffs Pinon, noting Sullivan's past membership in the FOP's hierarchy: "I have no clue why the FOP did this. Everybody investigated the San Pedro case, and if there had been any violation of the law, Sullivan would have been charged. These were minor inconsistencies. This background check became a federal investigation, figuratively, after the FOP jumped in."
Mackey maintains that his scrutiny of Sullivan was no more or less diligent than it would have been for any applicant.
With Sullivan out of the picture, the search for Al Boza's replacement has slowed considerably. Pinon and Barreto met last week to discuss their options, which include advertising for the position. Of course, this all comes during a period of transition to a new mayor and city commission, which augurs possible significant changes within the administration.
The previous applicant has a word of warning for other potential aspirants. "Until the problems with the political process are straightened out, no matter who comes in as a civilian, they're going to have trouble with the FOP," Sullivan proclaims.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.