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Despite Jean Monestime's Conflict, Miami-Dade Gives $3 Million To Dubious Project

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Are you looking for taxpayer money from

Miami-Dade County for a questionable project, but you've been

convicted of felony tax evasion and a misdemeanor attempt at boarding

an airplane with a loaded gun? No problem!

At least it's not a problem for Yoram

Izhak, a commercial property owner who recently scored a $3 million

grant to repave roads, install new lights, and add landscaping at a

rough-around-the-edges shopping center at NW 79th Street and 27th

Avenue in Liberty City. The renovation will supposedly attract a national

department store to the long-struggling neighborhood, but neither the

developer nor the county will say what chains they've lined up to

move in.

Banana Republican could not reach Izhak directly to comment about the cases or the grant, but his attorney, Glenn Widom, said the half-decade-old convictions have nothing to do with the Izhak's ability to turnaround the shopping center. Furthermore, Izhak only had to pay $75 and serve less than two years probation for his crimes, Widom adds. "I can see no reasonable relationship between his criminal charges and Northside Centre other than subjecting Mr. Izhak and his family to embarrassment," Widom says. "This is simply not newsworthy." 

The county commission unanimously

approved the deal without discussion January 24, even though the

plan's original sponsor, Jean Monestime, pulled his name and

withheld his vote at the last minute when the Miami-Dade ethics

commission ruled he had a conflict of interest.

Izhak owned Northside Centre LLC, the

company that runs the similarly named shopping center, until late

last year, when he transferred control to his wife and three business

partners. Izhak also owns 50 percent of M.I.A. Properties, which

leases office space to Monestime -- a business relationship that put

him at conflict, the ethics board ruled.

The commissioner's colleagues were

apparently as untroubled by the sponsor's conflict as by Izhak's

criminal record.

In 2004, the businessman pleaded guilty

to tax evasion in Miami federal court. A year earlier, he pleaded

guilty to a federal misdemeanor gun charge after screeners at Fort

Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport discovered a loaded .38

Special inside his carry-on briefcase on October 9, 2002.

Monestime also stands behind the deal.

"The developer is investing $3

million in addition to the grant for a rundown property next to a

poor community," Monestime says. "The owners are also obligated

to create and retain 200 jobs before they ever get a nickel from the


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