Columns

A Lobbyist's Wife Gets Her Way at Miami CRA

Man, we knew Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff could be a prickly son of gun, but his meddling in a billing issue shows he can be both petty and vindictive as well.

According to a June 1 memo by former CRA Executive Director James Villacorta, Sarnoff tried to speed up a report regarding a $20,000 claim being made by the wife of lobbyist and political consultant Armando Gutierrez.


Martiza Gutierrez, president of Creative Ideas Advertising, had worked on a CRA-funded music event at the Lyric Theatre in 2007 and wanted to be paid, pronto, according to the memo posted yesterday by the Crespogram Report

Problem was CRA program director Chelsa Arscott, who drafted the report regarding the payment, was on medical leave until June 7.

"Commissioner Sarnoff went on to complain about Ms. Arscott, stating that she was hospitalized for an elective surgery, and needed to decide whether or not she wanted to work at the CRA," Villacorta wrote. "The commissioner then directed Mr. Villacorta to terminate Ms. Arscott."

Villacorta, who then ran the agency funded with taxpayer dollars to address slum and blight in Overtown and the Omni Neighborhood, refused, noting that Arscott had the right to take leave time that she had earned. The memo also stated that Sarnoff wanted Villacorta to hire Pieter Bockweg as deputy director.

Of course, Bockweg ended up getting Villacorta's job when Sarnoff orchestrated his ouster. A source close to Villacorta says he got the boot because he refused to do the commissioner's bidding.

The source claims that Creative Ideas was required to submit work orders detailing how many hours Gutierrez would be working on specific public relations campaigns for the CRA. She didn't.

"All she did was stuff gift bags and handle the guest list for the music event," the source says. "And we always had to rewrite her press releases because she used broken English and got the facts wrong."

According to the source, Creative Ideas did not earn the $20,000 Gutierrez, who sits on the board of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, was demanding.

At Bockweg's first meeting, the CRA took up an agenda item drafted by Villacorta to discus whether Creative Ideas should be paid a settlement of $9,800 for its work. The city commission, acting as the CRA board, authorized the payment this past September 20.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.