Alonso to Corrupters: Watch Out!

As the scandal at the Port of Miami deepens, it's reassuring to see a new voice emerge as an advocate for honest government. "Allegations of misconduct, though allegations, raise many concerns that must be addressed," Dade County Commissioner Miriam Alonso announced last week. "Undoubtedly the criminal probe from the United States Attorney's Office will address some concerns. But the citizens of Dade County must be confident the county is asking the hard questions and examining the documents that must be reviewed. We must be aggressive, fair, and thorough in this task."

Alonso made her comments during an emergency meeting of the commission's maritime and trade committee. Alonso, the committee's chairwoman, called the special session for Wednesday of last week -- even though the full county commission met on both Tuesday and Thursday to discuss the port crisis, leading some of her colleagues to speculate privately that the real purpose of Alonso's emergency hearing was to preen before the cameras rather than unearth any hidden truths.

"I am against any type of corruption, regardless of who could be involved," she bravely proclaimed later in the meeting. "If I gain enemies in the process, that is a welcome opportunity, because I was elected by the taxpayers of Dade County to do my job and I intend to carry on my duties and responsibilities."

Could there be a better definition of oxymoron than Miriam Alonso issuing a clarion call for governmental integrity? This from the woman notorious for failing to pay property taxes on apartment buildings she owns, who has repeatedly run ethnically divisive election campaigns, who was thrown off the ballot in 1988 because she didn't live where she claimed she did, and who has abused her elected office to reward political cronies and punish opponents.

Having Alonso preside over the county's effort to clean up seaport corruption is like inviting a reformed thief into your house for advice on how to make it burglar-proof: You just can't shake the feeling that he's casing the joint for a return visit.

But let's not leap to conclusions here. No one is claiming that Alonso has reformed. After all, she is currently under investigation by the Dade State Attorney's Office for allegedly setting up her son-in-law, Kevin Miles, in a $60,000 job at Miami International Airport. As New Times reported ("The Dumping Ground," March 13), Miles was hired shortly after Alonso was elected to the county commission last fall. No one else was interviewed for the position. In fact, the job wasn't even advertised. Furthermore, it was created especially for Miles. Armando Vidal sidestepped the county's normal hiring procedures to bring Miles onboard -- and at a salary nearly equal to that of Miles's own supervisor.

Last week New Times also discovered that Miles did not take the county's required "pre-employment physical" until after he had been hired. Records show further that although county rules require the personnel department to confirm an applicant's employment history, airport officials did not check his references until after he began work. "He was treated differently," says one MIA official. "We all knew that his hiring was political."

Miles isn't the only political hire at the airport; others were documented in the New Times article. But sources familiar with an investigation launched by the State Attorney's Office say the probe is centered on Miles's case. Prosecutors have issued subpoenas for his personnel file and have questioned under oath several county employees, including aviation director Gary Dellapa. County Manager Vidal is expected to be questioned in the coming weeks. If prosecutors can prove that Alonso intervened to get her son-in-law a job, she would be in violation of the county charter. Punishment would be removal from office.

During last week's committee hearing, Alonso concentrated on a highly suspicious contract with Fiscal Operations, the company that runs the seaport's gantry cranes and which apparently has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on everything from yachts to perfume. In addition, the firm has donated thousands of dollars to political candidates, including Alonso. The company has also been accused of padding its payroll with politically connected individuals. Calvin Grigsby, company president, is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly offering a $300,000 bribe to County Commissioner James Burke.

Alonso gravely intoned that the allegations against Fiscal Operations are very serious and must be examined closely. Luckily for the citizens of Dade County, Alonso is uniquely qualified to undertake such an important examination. She can begin by questioning her son-in-law, Kevin Miles.

Before settling in at the airport, Miles was on Fiscal Operations's payroll as a "marketing consultant" from October 1995 to December 1996. According to a copy of his 1995 tax return, he was paid an annual salary of $60,000.

In personnel documents presented to the Aviation Department, Miles wrote that while at Fiscal Operations he "performed statistical analysis of marine cargo traded by U.S. ports w/rest of world for Port of Miami clients" and that he "prepared marketing info in English, Spanish & Portuguese to promote port internationally."

Of course, it seems odd that a company responsible for running gantry cranes would also take on the task of seaport promotion, especially in light of the fact that the county has its own staff of experts. Perhaps that will be among those "hard questions" to which Alonso will seek answers -- "regardless of who could be involved." As of late last week, however, no committee meetings had been scheduled by Alonso to grapple with this particular issue.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede