A Friend Indeed

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"I never took a penny from Camilo Padreda," insists Martinez, who since the final trial has continuously won re-election in Hialeah and still occupies the mayor's office. "I never asked him for any money. When he testified at my trial he produced a document that was an outright lie. The government knew he had lied, had committed perjury, and they never went after him."

In 1991, after hearing heartfelt testimonials from prominent civic figures like assistant county manager Dewey Knight, Jr., a federal judge sentenced Padreda to two months house arrest, two years probation, and fines and restitution totaling roughly $116,000.

In the wake of his guilty plea, a dejected Padreda retreated from the main stage. This civic-minded citizen no longer dreamed of projects to help the poor. He curtailed his efforts to reach out and reward public servants for their devotion to duty. These were tough times. Even his publicly subsidized housing empire seemed to crumble around him in what has become a legacy of bankruptcies that left taxpayers footing the bills.

Airport Seven, the office building he developed in 1986 with a city-secured $1.4 million loan, was foreclosed upon in 1991. The $17 million Casa del Lago project, the one in which Padreda pleaded guilty to defrauding the government, was also foreclosed upon by the government and found to be so structurally defective it was deemed uninhabitable. Another HUD project called Fontanar Park went bankrupt in 1991.

But Padreda's thirst to help people could not be permanently curtailed. He seemed determined to insert himself in public life once again, and eventually found a new role -- a facilitator for law enforcement. "He is like a cat," says a veteran of Miami's political arena who knew him years ago. "You never know where he'll turn up, and when you toss him away he lands on his feet."

Padreda re-emerged on the scene in early 1996, after a Cuban jet shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes. An FBI informant in Miami named Juan Pablo Roque turned out to be a Cuban spy and was suspected of involvement in the incident. Rumors spread through the exile community that the FBI had set up the Brothers' planes for the kill. Padreda offered to help.

"The word spread that the FBI was involved in this homicide," recalls Paul Philip, the FBI agent in charge of the Miami office at the time. "We had our first bomb threat in twelve or thirteen years. Someone came and told me there was a hit on me.... I thought, 'This is getting out of hand.' And that's when Camilo steps up and asks, 'Would you be willing to come to this meeting and defend yourself?' I went to that meeting and we spent two hours talking to these people.

"That took some stones to do that," Philip continues. "To say, 'Folks, these are my friends. I invited them here. Let's hear what they have to say.' There was a time when you took your life in your hands doing stuff like that."

To this day he and Padreda stay in touch. "We have lunch every once in a while," Philip says. "I'm very fond of him. When my dad died, he was very supportive. When his mom died, we talked a lot about it. He's sold me a lot of tickets to charity events for the DEA." (Philip is aware that Padreda is also close to the former head of the Miami DEA office, James Milford. Messages left for Milford were not returned.)

Philip has created a reputation for himself, along with former County Manager Merrett Stierheim, as one of the stalwarts you turn to when you need to clean up a mismanaged bureaucracy. When Stierheim took over as county manager in 1998, he hired Philip to be his "ethics czar." When the scandal-ridden school board hired Stierheim as its superintendent, Philip followed to help bring accountability to the behemoth organization. His effectiveness lies in his integrity; he cannot afford to be compromised.

Philip says he knew about Padreda's guilty plea in connection with the Martinez trial, but admits he was ignorant of his friend's other activities. "Here's the thing," he sighs. "I've got receipts showing where I picked up the tab or we split the tab. I've had no business dealings with him. I've accepted no gifts from him. What I know is that when the chips were down, he was there for the U.S. government."

The former FBI man's cautious appreciation of Padreda is understandable. On paper Padreda is a convicted felon who's confessed to other crimes authorities simply never charged him with. Some might not understand if Philip, whose good name was built on a career spent fighting corruption, were to take gifts or go into business with such an individual.

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten