Today may not technically be a holiday, but for Miami-Dade residents, it marks one of the treasured moments in the yearly calendar: Another former public official starts their corruption trial! Former Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman is the man on the stand in criminal court this morning, facing down two felony counts of unlawful compensation related to an allegedly crooked deal with a medical clinic.
Bateman was the last of three local mayors arrested in a corruption crackdown last summer. Prosecutors went 50-50 on the other two cases, nailing Sweetwater's ex-mayor on corruption charges but watching Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi beat his rap. How will Bateman fare?
Bateman's case centers on a consulting deal with Community Health of South Florida Inc., a clinic that hoped to open a new center in downtown Homestead.
Prosecutors say that Bateman had a secret, $125-per-hour gig working for the company behind the scenes, while in his role as mayor he helped grease the wheels for the deal, including fast-tracking a sewer extension to the building they hoped to move into.
Bateman has vigorously fought the charges, and even filed for re-election two days after his arrest, though he wasn't able to win back his job with the case hanging over his head. He says his work as a consultant never affected his role as mayor.
"I had to wear two hats," Bateman tells the Miami Herald. "I think I did a good job separating the hats, and we'll prove that."
The charges came after years of fighting between the mayor and other officials in the southern Dade County city.
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Bateman had already landed in hot water over his ties to another medical firm, the for-profit Dade Medical College, which wanted to build a new campus in Homestead. Bateman supported the deal and allegedly helped steer the real estate deal to his wife, a local realtor.
Dade Medical's president, Ernesto Perez was later indicted himself after New Times revealed that he'd never disclosed a previous conviction for sexual assault on a child. He's been indicted for perjury for allegedly lying about those charges while expunging his record.
Bateman's time in office includes a colorful parade of other scandals and controversies, including facing vandalism accusations after cutting through a lock at a local high school and claims he'd used city resources to make campaign ads.