Crime

60 Minutes Asks, "Is There Any Scheme Miami Is Not Number One At?"

Veteran 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft visited Miami for a special report that aired this weekend, looking into the booming trend of identity thieves stealing personal data to scam the government out of tax returns. Instead, after hearing about Miami's oversize role in the fraud, he ended up tackling a much deeper question.

"Don't take this the wrong way," Kroft asked Wifredo Ferrer, the chief federal prosecutor in Miami. "Is there any scheme Miami is not number one at?"

Kroft, of course, has some personal experience covering Miami's particular brand of sleaze. He began his national reporting career in the Magic City in 1983 as a correspondent for CBS News.

In a companion piece to his report on tax fraud, Kroft tells 60 Minutes Overtime that he barely blinks anymore when a producer tells him his latest story on fraud will take him to South Florida.

"I'm laughing at it because I've seen it so many times" Kroft says. "I've spent too much time down there to get outraged about scams in Miami."

As a 60 Minutes reporter, Kroft had already notched long Miami-based stories on the explosion of Medicare fraud and title loan industry scams, to name just two reports.

"Coming to Florida in search of stories about scam artists, fraudsters, and outrageous behavior is like going to the Louvre in search of art," Frank Devine, a producer who has worked on some of those Sunshine State stories with Kroft, tells 60 Minutes Overtime. "It's everywhere."

But why? In his 60 Minutes Overtime piece, Kroft doesn't delve too deeply into that piece of the question, other than to say Miami "is that kind of town" where "there are always people who will take advantage of you."

Of course there are plenty of contributing factors to that reputation, and any Miamian will tell you those factors go deeper than some imaginary local character flaw: Decades of corrupt political leadership, a yawning gulf between superrich and impoverished, and a deregulation-happy governor whose own corporate history includes a record bout of Medicare fraud, to name just a few.

Still, New Times can confirm Kroft is right on one point: "I love the city only because it's a journalist's dream," he says. "There's always been so much going on there that you never have to worry about your next story."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink