In early April, Mayor Tomas Regalado stood before a packed room of reporters and politicos at the Miami Police Department to praise the results of a sweeping corruption probe.
"This is not another black eye for the city," Regalado promised. "This is something we promised the people of Miami to look into the wrongdoing in all departments of the city."
Two months later, the whole operation -- which included five city officials and three cops under arrest -- sure looks like a black eye for Regalado.
Days after the meeting, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle dropped charges against four nonprofit employees and criticized the way the case was handled.
A few weeks later, the FBI slammed Relagaldo's "anti-corruption unit" for mixing politics and justice.
Now, today, prosecutors dropped all charges against the biggest fish caught in the "sting" -- Alex J. Martinez, deputy director of the General Services Administration.
Martinez had been arrested for Grand Theft and Official Misconduct -- allegedly for forcing city workers to improve his house on the taxpayer dime -- but prosecutors today said that "the charges cannnot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt."
The charges against Martinez, as outlined in a memo prosecutors released today, were not exactly jaw-dropping in their scope.
Several former GSA employees accused the bureaucrat of coercing them to build a handicap ramp for his mother's house -- worth $150 -- and a large cross for an Easter celebration. Another group allegedly painted his house for free over a three-week period.
The total cost to the city, if true, would have been about $700, prosecutors say.
But Martinez produced checks that seemed to show he had paid the men for their work, and other city leaders testified that he had done nothing wrong.
"There is a lack of documentation, conflict in testimony, and a lack of ability to be more precise in the dates of the alleged offenses," prosecutors write. "While the probable cause is sufficient for an arrest, the burden at trial would be much higher."
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Regalado declined to comment through a spokesman for this story. Police Chief Manuel Exposito promised to release a statement, and we'll update this post when we hear back from him.
Update: Exposito has released a statement, pointing out that the SAO says there was "probable cause" to arrest Martinez.
Here's the statement in entirity:
Today the Miami-Dade County's State Attorney's Office announced that it would not proceed with criminal charges in the case of former City of Miami Deputy Director of General Services Administration, Alex J. Martinez, arrested on April 9, 2010 by the Miami Police Department's - Internal Affairs - Public Corruption Unit. According to the State Attorney's Office, 'though there was probable cause for the arrest, the case cannot be proved beyond and to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt and thus the State takes no action in this matter.'
The basis of this investigation by the Miami Police Department stemmed from the receipt of information by former and current City of Miami employees who alleged that Mr. Martinez had utilized on-duty city employees and city resources to perform construction work in his home and that of his family members, in some instances even on an overtime basis. Subsequently, the MPD Public Corruption Unit did what they are tasked to do. They investigated and found evidence of a crime.
Elements of the investigation by the MPD included, but were not limited to, the following: sworn statements from former and current employees which verified the allegations and photographs of a gazebo and handicapped ramp at the homes. As a result, the MPD found sufficient evidence to effect Mr. Martinez's arrest.
Although the State Attorney's Office agreed that 'the Miami Police Department had sufficient probable cause for the arrest, they felt that the burden at trial would be much higher.'
"This decision will not deter the Miami Police Department from its ongoing mission to root out corruption in the City of Miami," said Chief Miguel A. Exposito who established the Public Corruption Unit upon his appointment as Chief of Police.