Oops, He Did It Again

While he was still mayor of Homestead, Steve Shiver used the city's Tallahassee lobbyist to help one of his friends with a petition for executive clemency that was pending before the governor and the Florida cabinet. Shiver's pal, William Chaney, had been convicted in the mid-Eighties for conspiring to import hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the United States. He served nearly eight months in federal prison.

Shiver was unsuccessful in his efforts to secure executive clemency for his lifelong friend; the petition was denied earlier this year during a February 22 meeting of the clemency board. Nevertheless Shiver's use of the city's lobbyist for personal affairs is yet another example in a growing list of questionable actions he took while serving as an elected official in Homestead. Earlier this month the city's former finance director accused Shiver of steering municipal business to Homestead-based Community Bank, even though at the time he owned thousands of dollars' worth of stock in the bank. And last week New Times revealed that Shiver, while a councilman and as mayor, accepted three all-expenses-paid trips from the bank.

William Chaney was one of twenty people arrested in September 1984 following a two-and-a-half-year state and federal investigation into what FBI agents described as one of the largest marijuana-smuggling operations in South Florida history. The head of the criminal enterprise was a former Homestead police officer, Stamford Champion. Prosecutors claimed the group was responsible for smuggling from Jamaica to the United States marijuana valued at more than five million dollars.

At the time of his arrest, Chaney was 25 years old. Today he claims he played only a minor role in the scheme. "I didn't really do anything that bad," he says without elaboration.

Last year, more than a decade after being released from federal prison, Chaney petitioned for executive clemency. His application form indicated that he sought clemency in order to possess a firearm, which he is prohibited from doing as a convicted felon. But Chaney points to his three children as the true motive for seeking clemency: "I was doing it to show my kids that while I screwed up early in life, I've tried to make up for it."

Chaney, who still lives in Homestead, will not discuss how Shiver became involved in his bid for clemency. "You are going to do what you are going to do," he says angrily. "You are going to slander Steve, and in the process you are going to slander me. I'm a lifelong friend of Steve. His dad is a friend of mine." He is so close to Shiver and his father, in fact, that he adds, "His father is like my father." The events surrounding his clemency bid, he argues, are not worth writing about. "I don't think anybody did anything wrong here," he protests.

Chaney's opinion notwithstanding, at some point late last year Shiver solicited the help of Robert Levy, who has been Homestead's lobbyist for the past eight years and is paid $30,000 each year to represent the city's interests at the state capitol. "He just asked me to keep my eyes on it," recounts Levy, who represents several other municipalities and a number of high-profile clients. "He asked me to monitor it before the clemency board. I really didn't do anything. I don't even know William Chaney."

But an e-mail message obtained by New Times suggests Levy may have done more than simply "monitor" events on Shiver's behalf. The e-mail was dated March 8, 2001, and was sent from Levy to Shiver, who had recently begun his new job as county manager.

"Boss -- Governor denied Chaney's clemency at 2/22 meeting," Levy wrote. "Joe Gillespie called him personally to inform him of the outcome and told him he tried to help in your behalf."

Shiver replied the following day in an e-mail to Levy: "I really don't know what else to do for Chaney."

Joe Gillespie was the clemency aide for Secretary of State Katherine Harris. As a member of the state cabinet, Harris votes on clemency petitions; it was Gillespie's job to review those requests and provide Harris with a summary and a voting recommendation.

Why would Levy seek help from Gillespie as opposed to a clemency aide for the governor or some other cabinet member? Well, it turns out that before working for Harris, Gillespie spent three years employed by Levy as his assistant. Levy insists he never asked Gillespie to do anything improper. "Clemencies are pretty cut and dry," he says. "There isn't much room to help. There was little Gillespie could do."

Gillespie concurs that he did nothing wrong. "I don't remember who called me first," he says. "It may have been Mr. Levy." He also can't recall if Levy invoked Shiver's name but adds, "I know Mr. Levy represents the City of Homestead."

Gillespie contends that all he did was answer Chaney's questions about the clemency process, something he would do for any member of the public. "My job was simply to review the cases," he says. "I can't remember for sure because there are so many cases on each agenda, but my recollection is that my ultimate recommendation to Secretary Harris was that she deny Mr. Chaney's petition."

Each applicant for clemency is subjected to a thorough background check by state investigators, and a report is prepared, known as a "confidential case analysis." Gillespie says that when the clemency aides for all cabinet members met to review the petitions and reports, "it was pretty universal among all the aides that [Chaney's] should be denied." (Under state law clemency files are confidential, though they can be made public at the discretion of the governor. Last week New Times asked Gov. Jeb Bush to release Chaney's file. The governor's office did not respond by press time.)

A review of Chaney's arrest records, however, offers some clues as to why his petition may have been denied. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in addition to his arrest and conviction on federal marijuana charges, Chaney has been arrested on six other occasions. The charges included drunk driving (1984, 1985, and 1996), cocaine possession (1984), disorderly conduct (1977), elder abuse (1995), and accessory after the fact for grand theft (1995).

According to Chaney in nearly every instance the charges were either dropped or dismissed. He says he's going to hire an attorney to purge his records of those arrests. Once that's done he vows to file another petition for clemency. "I have walked the walk and tried to straighten out my life," he declares. "It doesn't say anything on there about the good things that I've done in my life, how hard I worked to raise my kids after my wife died of brain cancer. You are just sitting back and judging me."

The issue is not William Chaney's past but rather Steve Shiver's ethics.

Shiver's actions were wrong for several reasons. First the Miami-Dade County code, which applies to all municipalities, prohibits elected officials from exploiting their office. Section 2-11.1(g) states that no one "shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure special privileges or exemptions for himself or others...."

Enlisting the help of a well-known Tallahassee lobbyist with direct connections to the clemency board would seem to constitute a special privilege not available to ordinary citizens. In addition, under his contract with the City of Homestead, Levy is supposed to take his direction only from the city manager, Curtis Ivy, Jr.

Levy says, and Ivy confirms, that he didn't discuss the Chaney clemency bid with the manager, and that as far as he was concerned he was merely doing a favor for Shiver, something separate from his official contract with the city. (Interestingly, though, in his e-mail to Shiver he referred to the county manager as "Boss.")

Even if it were simply a favor, as mayor should Shiver have been soliciting or accepting favors from people who do business with the city? Fully aware that his contract must be approved by Shiver and the other members of the city council, would Levy feel free to tell Shiver he was unwilling to do him a favor? And now that Shiver has been appointed by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas to be county manager, is there any reason to believe he won't continue to show the same disregard for ethics and integrity?

Judging from Chaney's account, Shiver appears to be amused at the media's interest in his conduct. After New Times contacted him last week, Chaney became upset, worried that publicity about his past might adversely affect his family and his business. So, he says, he called Shiver. "He laughed and shook it off," Chaney reports. "He doesn't care. He says the press is investigating everything he's done. He told me: “You're going to have to bite the bullet.'"