Carollo Aide Says He Was Told to Lie to Investigators About Attack on Political Opponent

Carollo Aide Says He Was Told to Lie to Investigators About Attack on Political Opponent
Photos: Joe Carollo's Instagram / Courtesy of Ball & Chain
Photos: Joe Carollo's Instagram / Courtesy of Ball & Chain
When investigators from the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust asked Stephen Miró, a former aide to Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo, whether the politician was using city resources to "selectively" attack Bill Fuller, the owner of Little Havana's Ball & Chain, as vengeance for his support of Carollo's opponent, Miró did not pull punches.

"In my opinion, yes," Miró told the ethics commission.

Miró also said Carollo "bragged" about personally following Ball & Chain employees at night. And after Fuller filed a complaint against Carollo, Miró said the commissioner pressured him to lie to the ethics board.

"Joe wanted me to say there were anonymous complaints [against Fuller] and there were none," Miró said. He added that Carollo tried to "coerce [him] into saying something that was totally not true."

Miró's statements are among an avalanche of damning details in a new report from the ethics commission's investigation into Carollo's alleged political vendetta against Fuller. Much of the testimony in the 38-page report paints Carollo as a vengeful, paranoid figure willing to accuse his enemies of nearly anything to smear them. The report is just the latest eye-opening chapter in the former Miami mayor's long-standing history as the Magic City's most outlandish politician.

Fuller's spokespeople declined to comment to New Times over the weekend. Carollo's lawyer, Ben Kuehne, did not respond to a message after being sent a copy of the ethics report.

Despite a lengthy investigation, the ethics commission didn't reach any ruling on the March complaint filed by Fuller because Ball & Chain's owner withdrew his complaint last month. Fuller's attorney says he stands by the allegations but now has enough evidence to instead file a criminal or civil complaint in court.

The ethics board's close-out memo includes some of that evidence, such as testimony from multiple city officials who said Carollo instructed them to look into Fuller's properties and research what code violations could be filed against them.

For instance, former Code Compliance Director Orlando Diez said Carollo pressured him to crack down on Fuller's properties. Diez says the commissioner made it clear the director's career would suffer if he refused, a message echoed by Assistant City Manager Albert Parjus and Commissioner Manolo Reyes. When he declined to target Fuller, Diez claims, Parjus told him that the commissioner and his allies "want your head" and that he was likely to face "consequences." Diez was then reassigned to another department.

Miró, meanwhile, said Carollo asked for lists of Fuller's properties — a move the commissioner never made for any other landowner in his district. City officials and tenants of Fuller's properties described Carollo as focused on patrolling Fuller-owned lots in order to hunt for any possible way to whack the owner. And Parjus, the former assistant city manager, allegedly told others that Carollo's camp was "driving him crazy" by filing so many complaints against Fuller.

Fuller says Carollo's vendetta began because the Ball & Chain owner held an event for Alfie Leon, Carollo's opponent in last year's elections, at his club. As New Times reported last month, Fuller says Carollo repeatedly parked his car outside Ball & Chain late at night, and when he was confronted, he whipped out a city badge, said he was conducting an "official investigation," and then shouted "I am the law" at a valet parking attendant. Carollo denies this event occurred, but Miró, his former aide, told the ethics commission he witnessed the exchange. New Times also obtained a photo that appears to show Carollo skulking outside Ball & Chain around midnight this past March.

The new report provides even more insane allegations — including claims Carollo tried to smear multiple Little Havana businesses as "communist" fronts. In fact, in his April interview with the ethics commission, Carollo accused Fuller and his tenants of having connections to "Cuban intelligence" and Venezuelan leftist "guerrillas." Without presenting any evidence, Carollo suggested Ball & Chain valet attendants were stealing from patrons, accused Fuller of money-laundering and filming nude "sex parties" inside the club, and alleged that Fuller, who is of Cuban descent, wanted to gentrify and "de-Latinize" Little Havana.

Carollo's attacks weren't limited to Ball & Chain. In his April interview, the commissioner also claimed the Calle Ocho candy store Guayaba y Chocolate was a secret communist outpost because guayaba (guava) represents "red" and chocolate represents "black," two traditionally communist colors.

The store's owner, Maria Vivas-Mendoza, told ethics investigators she "feels quite scared now" after Carollo's attacks. Vivas-Mendoza says that her mother dates former Venezuelan guerrilla Alí Rodríguez Araqué and that after finding out about her family history, Carollo appeared on Miami's Spanish-language Caracol Radio and asked, "How can we allow someone like this to open a business in Miami?"

Vivas-Mendoza, though, says she fled Venezuela when she was 15 and receives no support from Rodríguez Araqué. She says Carollo attacked her because she put an Alfie Leon sign on her storefront. She says she complained to radio host (and former Hialeah mayor) Raul Martinez, who apologized to her for letting Carollo attack her and then brought Vivas-Mendoza on the air to explain her side of the story. She told the ethics board she now fears for her family and business.

Fuller also says Carollo appeared on Caracol Radio and said Fuller had ties to left-wing militants, communists, and money launderers, which Fuller says were defamatory claims. Carollo also used his radio appearance to call Fuller the padrino ("godfather") of Little Havana.

Carollo has long been infamous for accusing his opponents of having communist ties. In 2017, he claimed election opponent Tommy Regalado had links to communists and former leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

In his ethics interview, Carollo admitted to repeatedly driving past Fuller's properties to hunt for code violations but claimed he was simply following up on residents' complaints. Carollo maintains that Fuller is making up the harassment allegations to smear him. He asked the ethics commission to sanction Fuller for filing allegedly bogus complaints.

In addition to statements from Carollo and Fuller, the latest ethics report also includes statements from 22 other people, including current and former city officials, tenants of Fuller's properties, and various employees related to Fuller's company, the Barlington Group. Miró, who accused his former boss of selectively sending code enforcement after Fuller, also accused the commissioner of illegally using city funds to campaign for his allies earlier this year. Carollo fired Miró and later claimed he had made sexually inappropriate comments to co-workers and broken other city rules.

Speaking to the ethics board, multiple city workers said it was bizarre and "unusual" to receive so many complaints from Carollo's office about Fuller and his properties. Some neighbors testified they had indeed made noise complaints about the club, though one said her complaints ended after Fuller built a wall around the property.

And in some cases, officials found violations. The city forced Fuller to stop using a church lot to park cars — but those violations came after Carollo showed up outside Ball & Chain to hunt for problems. In June, after a City of Miami Code Enforcement special master gave Fuller extra time to deal with the new flood of code violations, blogger Al Crespo reported that Carollo tried to have the position of special master removed from the city government.
click to enlarge Ball & Chain's owner says this photo shows Joe Carollo bothering club employees at midnight in March 2018. - COURTESY OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COMMISSION ON ETHICS & PUBLIC TRUST
Ball & Chain's owner says this photo shows Joe Carollo bothering club employees at midnight in March 2018.
Courtesy of Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust
The report also adds new context to Fuller's claim that Carollo's harassment dates back to his decision to hold a campaign event for Leon. Fuller told the ethics board that he had donated to every major candidate in the commission race, including Carollo, and said he assumed Leon's November event would be a nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote affair before he learned Leon was using the event to promote himself. Fuller said he tried to remain on good terms with Carollo — and reached out to him to congratulate him on his victory — but eventually realized the commissioner was "out to get him."

Before the Leon event at Fuller's club, Miró said Carollo seemed to be trying to "ally himself" with Fuller. But after the event, Miró said, Carollo called him and told him to contact ASFCME union rep Mary Lugo (a Carollo ally) to take photographs of the rally. Code-enforcement employees later arrived and tried to shut the rally down, but Miró suggested that Lugo likely called in a code complaint on Carollo's behalf.

Fuller then alleged Carollo tried to shut down his December 15 Christmas party at the Tower Hotel by claiming Fuller had incorrect permits and was giving out "illegal drugs." Code-compliance officers showed up but did not observe any illegal activity and allowed the party to continue.

Carollo told ethics investigators he drove by the Tower Hotel after allegedly receiving complaints from "multiple" neighbors. He also said he asked Miami Herald reporter Brenda Medina to accompany him on the ride-along as a "witness." Via email, Medina told New Times she accompanied Carollo that night as research for a "possible story about code violations" for El Nuevo Herald that did not pan out. (After this story was initially published, Medina tweeted she did not personally witness Carollo attempt to shut down any Christmas party.)

Carollo admitted the code-compliance complaints that night came from Lugo, his ally at the union, but denied he directed Lugo to sic city officials on the party.

Diez, the former head of code compliance, confirmed Lugo complained that more than 100 people were crammed into the building and that the party required a special-event permit. But when a code officer scoped out the party, the officer reported seeing fewer than 50 attendees and found no other problems.

But Diez then said he received a call from Assistant City Manager Parjus — who said that the complaints were coming "from a commissioner's office" and that people were "driving him crazy" trying to get the party shut down.

On February 10, the owners of Union Beer Store, another Fuller tenant, said Carollo showed up with "15 to 20" code-enforcement personnel and shut down the store's first-anniversary party. The owners — David and Cecilia Rodriguez — told the commission that Carollo often spends time at Little Havana's neighboring bar El Pub and that they believed El Pub's owners saw many of Fuller's properties as competition.

The Little Havana LGBTQ festival Gay 8 happened the following week, February 18, and Carollo allegedly went into overdrive that day. He reportedly called a City of Miami fire inspector to send the agency after a food truck operating on Fuller's land. Fire inspector Carlos Diaz told the ethics commission that Miró approached him and claimed the truck, Sanguich de Miami, was intentionally selling spoiled food to customers. Miró then handed Diaz a phone with Carollo on the line, and the commissioner allegedly repeated that Sanguich was selling rotten food and that the truck was unlicensed.

Diaz then inspected the truck and said he found it spotless, "brand new," and operating with no "rotten food." Diaz said that Miró stood outside with a group of Miami cops as he inspected the truck but that the truck was allowed to continue operating that day. Diaz also said that the call from Carollo was "unusual" and that he'd never been personally contacted by a city commissioner before.

Two other code-compliance operatives also said they'd never been contacted by city commissioners before Carollo began checking up on Fuller's properties. One officer, inspector Dennis Uriarte, said Carollo even asked to accompany him on a ride-along to Fuller's properties.

"I don't think it's part of our job," Uriarte said of the ride-along. He added that getting a request like that "never happens." The truck was also raided by "25 to 30" city employees in November 2017 — Sanguich's owners told the ethics board that City Manager Daniel Alfonso admitted Carollo was behind that raid too.

As for the now-infamous incident later that same February 18 night, in which Carollo allegedly bellowed "I am the law" at Ball & Chain's parking attendants, multiple witnesses — including Miró, valet lot manager Alain Garcia Martinez, and Garcia's brother Arnay — corroborated major parts of the incident.

Arnay Garcia said he noticed a car idling outside the lot by the Saints Peter & Paul Orthodox Church at 1411 SW 11th St. around 1 a.m. February 19, hours after the Gay 8 festival ended. He said he approached and encountered a "blonde woman," later identified as Carollo's union pal Lugo, who said she was there to allegedly  meet a priest in those early-morning hours because she was "having a family problem in [her] home." Arnay Garcia noticed no one went inside the church and saw an unidentified man taking photos of the cars inside the lot. After he asked the man what was going on, Arnay Garcia said Lugo and the photographer left and got into a dark GMC Terrain.

When Arnay Garcia approached the SUV, he said, Carollo rolled down a window and displayed a City of Miami parking placard. After Carollo said he was there because the lot was "operating illegally," Arnay Garcia said he notified his brother and manager, Alain.

Alain Garcia then said he immediately recognized Carollo and asked what the commissioner was doing outside at that hour. Carollo allegedly responded, "Because I can be here. I am the law, and I can do it."

Alain Garcia said he then rebuffed the commissioner. "No, you are not the law," he responded. "You want to be the law, and you only represent it."

In response, Alain Garcia said, Lugo lowered her window and made a cryptic comment "referencing the Parkland school shooting" and asking, "What would the children think about cars being parked at a church?"

Alain Garcia then said he asked, "[What] will the children think that at 1 a.m. you are taking pictures of vehicles inside a private property instead of discussing school safety?"

Eventually, Carollo allegedly said the valet attendants would find out "what happens in a week or two weeks." On March 3, S.H. Valet's owners said, the "harassment began" and the city informed them they were operating illegally. Carollo also showed up late that night, and Fuller snapped a photo of the commissioner in a car allegedly idling outside the lot. The valet company also said it was hit with a $12,400 fine for "underreporting" parking receipts. (Arthur Noriega, CEO of the Miami Parking Authority, testified that Carollo's crackdown in Little Havana was "unusual" but that, in regards to the valet lot, Carollo "was right" about it operating without proper authorization, but another city employee took the blame for not alerting Fuller to the violations in that lot.)

But perhaps the most damning testimony of all came when Miró told the ethics board that Carollo pressured him to lie to investigators. After Fuller filed the complaint in March, Miró said, Carollo approached him and asked how Miró would respond if the ethics commission asked him to testify. Miró said he would tell the truth, which he said left Carollo fuming. Carollo instead told Miró and Lugo to canvass Little HavanaOn March 3,  to find residents who were upset abtou Fuller's lots. Miró said he never received any "anonymous complaints" about Fuller.

When investigators asked Miró what motivated Carollo's recent behavior, he said the commissioner was relishing the power that comes with being back in elected office.

"He wants to make it known," Miró said, "there's a new sheriff in town."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.