Last November, Barbara Carey-Shuler was the reason the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office charged then-Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones with grand theft of $50,000 in county grants that went to a now defunct family business called Karym Ventures Inc. Nine months later, the former county commissioner is the reason Spence-Jones could be exonerated. During a tense deposition this past June 21, Carey-Shuler admitted she participated in the drafting of a February 15, 2005 official letter that released the funds to Karym -- contradicting an earlier sworn statement that she had no involvement in authoring the correspondence.
According to the arrest affidavit for Spence-Jones, Carey-Shuler originally denied signing or authorizing the February 15, 2005 letter, which was written on her official county commission letterhead and had her signature. Carey-Shuler told investigators "she was 'shocked' that Michelle Spence-Jones had gotten the funds instead of the intended recipients," the arrest affidavit said. Carey-Shuler's flat-out denial was the basis for public corruption assistant state attorney Richard Scruggs to arrest Spence-Jones.
During last month's deposition (obtained by New Times and WPLG's political reporter Michael Putney), Spence-Jones' criminal defense attorney Peter Raben showed Carey-Shuler two drafts of the February 15, 2005
One draft, dated January 9, 2005, contained several handwritten
edits, including a notation that said: "should release the $50,000
"Whose handwriting is that?" Raben
asked Carey-Shuler. "It's mine," she replied.
When Raben quizzed
her if the final version -- the one prosecutors alleged was a forgery --
was "genuine," Carey-Shuler said: "That's correct."
Carey-Shuler explained that Scruggs did not show her the draft with her handwritten notes
when he questioned her this past September on two separate
occasions. How Scruggs, a former federal prosecutor who sent mass murderer Yahweh Ben Yahweh to prison, could have missed a key piece of evidence is a total head scratcher. The drafts were in a box of files stored by the county after Carey-Shuler left office. The box was marked "Cafe Soul," the name of the property on NW 7th avenue Karym was going to renovate with the grants. In other words, it was readily available when Scruggs subpoenaed hundreds of county records pertaining to the $50,000 that went to Karym.
Had Scruggs shown her the draft it
would have refreshed her recollection of events, Carey-Shuler
attested. "I can't deny that's my handwriting," she said, adding
that she had a hard time remembering what occurred in 2005 because
she was dealing with deaths of her mother and her husband that year.
"That was a trying time in my life, but I would have known that
that was my handwriting," she said.
When Raben asked her if she had been
tricked or misled to redirect the $50,000 to Karym, Carey-Shuler's
response was "no."
Later on during the deposition,
Carey-Shuler's attorney Milton Hirsch reiterated that his client had
not seen the draft letter when she was initially debriefed by Scruggs
last year. "Those are the two documents that were not shown to Dr.
Carey-Shuler or me on September 9 or September 18 when
we were here," Hirsch affirmed. "Those are the two documents that
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we were shown for the first time by Mr. Raben."
What happens now remains to be seen. I have sent a series of questions to the spokesman of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to address what happened at the deposition and if she will consider dropping the grand theft charge against Spence-Jones, who is also facing a bribery charge in a separate case.
However, the revelation that evidence exists clearing Spence-Jones of using a forged instrument to commit grand theft will only fuel speculation among the ousted commissioner's supporters that Fernandez Rundle and Scruggs went after her for political reasons. One of her biggest backers emphatically believes the criminal justice system was used to change the outcome of two elections Spence-Jones won.
"They created a chilling effect on democracy," he said. "That is something that should concern all of us."