Talk about a hostile witness. Armando Codina, the developer at the heart of a criminal case against ex-Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, repeatedly criticized prosecutor Richard Scruggs on the stand today for "misleading" him. Prosecutors say the $12,500 that Codina gave a charity at Spence-Jones's urging amounted to a bribe, but the developer denied that and says his first meeting with prosecutors was tainted by false information Scruggs fed him.
"I was purposely misled," Codina said in the courtroom hallway after testifying.
Codina's testimony took most of the day. Both sides agree on the basics: In 2006, Spence-Jones's office called Codina to ask for a donation to a nonprofit called Friends of the MLK Trust for an event to honor former Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler.
The call came soon after Codina and developer Ricardo Glas had lobbied the commission to rename a section of SE Second Avenue to Brickell Avenue, in order to give their Met 2 project a more bankable address.
Both Codina and Glas gave $12,500 toward the Carey-Shuler gala.
Prosecutors say that Spence-Jones secretly controlled the nonprofit and used the funds for herself, and that the developer's donations amounted to bribes meant to influence her vote. (The street-renaming issue was eventually dropped when commissioners realized the state would have to approve a name change.)
Codina and Scruggs clashed all day on the stand, as the developer maintained he gave the money only because he respected Carey-Shuler and because he believed the nonprofit to be legit.
"They had Burger King as a major donor, and the money was going to the Dade Community Foundation, so I trusted it as a good donation," he said.
Codina repeatedly echoed a testy deposition he gave in February when he accused Scruggs of misleading him during their first meeting.
On the stand, he said the first he heard of the allegations against Spence-Jones was when a detective called him while he was driving on I-95 and told him: "We have you on video in a bribery investigation."
Codina says he went to Scruggs's office on good faith and that the prosecutor told him the Carey-Shuler event had never happened, that the charity was a sham, and that Spence-Jones was stealing the money.
"I left there feeling ashamed and embarrassed. I thought Michelle Spence-Jones had misused my money," Codina said. "Only later did I find out the event did happen... and that the check was deposited with the Dade Community Foundation as I had expected."
Codina fumed as he talked with reporters after his testimony, but declined to speak about the state's charges that Spence-Jones had misused charity funds.
"I'm going to wait until the matter is over before I decide how to proceed," he said. "I don't have all the facts yet."