A Friend Indeed

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Padreda also developed a special friendship with an up-and-coming young public official named Sergio Pereira. In 1985 Padreda and some business partners negotiated to buy a parcel of land at the corner of West Flagler Street and 114th Avenue from a corporation controlled by Manuel Lopez Castro, who later became a fugitive after being charged with laundering drug money. Padreda and partners purchased the land for $925,000. One of the people Padreda cut in on the deal was Pereira, an assistant county manager at the time. Pereira put no money down but was nonetheless made a 25-percent partner in the property. A few months later the Dade County Commission voted unanimously to rezone the land so a shopping complex could be built there. (Years later Padreda would testify he paid Commissioner Jorge Valdes $40,000 for his vote. Valdes vehemently denied the accusation.) Padreda and partners then flipped the property for $1,533,000 -- a $608,000 profit. Pereira cleared $127,000 on the deal without having invested one penny.

Three months later Pereira, who had become Miami city manager, created a special job for Padreda's daughter on the municipal payroll. He reclassified a vacant secretary's position into a new post titled "User Support Representative," according to the Miami Herald.

In 1988 the Herald came across the land deal and wrote a series of stories about it. Pereira, who by then had taken a big step from city manager to Dade County manager, had not listed the transaction on his financial-disclosure forms, though he did report it on his federal tax returns. He said the failure to disclose was an oversight. Then it was revealed he had subsequently hired Padreda's daughter. "Can't I ask a favor of anybody to give a job to my daughter?" the Herald quoted Padreda as saying. By then public confidence in Pereira had eroded to the point he was forced to resign.

Padreda, meanwhile, weathered the scandal relatively unscathed. But his luck would not hold.

In the mid-Eighties the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami launched one of its most ambitious corruption investigations. The feds probed what was believed to be a construction-extortion racket run out of Hialeah City Hall by Mayor Raul Martinez. A grand jury indicted Martinez in 1990.

Padreda was one of the first snared in the net cast by the feds, who alleged that Martinez extorted a $150,000 bribe from Padreda to win a $7 million contract to build low-income apartments. Instead of charging him in the Hialeah scheme, however, prosecutors disclosed their investigation of Padreda's Casa del Lago project in Kendall. They threatened to go after his daughter, whose company installed fixtures in the HUD-insured project. The threat worked. Padreda agreed to cooperate in the case against Martinez and also pleaded guilty to two felony counts of defrauding the federal government: falsifying documents to pad construction costs, and hiding subcontracts to family members.

When he took the stand in the Martinez prosecution, Padreda didn't merely cooperate, he gushed like a geyser. In addition to the bribe he allegedly paid Martinez, he recounted the $40,000 bribe he paid to Jorge Valdes for his zoning vote; the $2200 he spent on improvements to the home of Miami City Commissioner Miller Dawkins; and his offer of a $50,000 bribe to Demetrio Perez, at the time a city commissioner. (In 1985, Padreda testified, he and Al Cardenas, now chairman of the state Republican Party, offered Perez the cash if he'd vote for Sergio Pereira as Miami city manager. Money was actually placed in an escrow account, according to Padreda, but the deal never went through because Perez's vote wasn't needed. Cardenas later acknowledged he met with Perez -- to explore the possibility of fundraising for the commissioner in return for his support of Pereira.)

The jury convicted Martinez. An appeals court overturned the conviction, and the case went back to trial, which ended in a hung jury. A retrial ended the same way. Prosecutors decided not to try Martinez a fourth time. It was a bruising defeat for the feds.

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten