Free Parking

A member of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas's staff has admitted bilking the county out of at least $5000 during the past several years. The employee, Joseph Jean-Baptiste, who is chief of protocol for the mayor's office, gave his wife and another relative passes that allowed them to park for free at Miami International Airport.

The county-issued cards are supposed to be used only by members of the mayor's staff who are on official business at the airport. Both Jean-Baptiste's wife and the relative work at the airport.

Aviation director Gary Dellapa said this past week that "a routine audit" turned up the misuse. Airport officials have documented at least $5000 in lost fees and, according to sources familiar with the investigation, the final figure could run between $8000 and $12,000.

"When confronted with this allegation, Mr. Jean-Baptiste immediately admitted his error, apologized for his behavior, and offered full restitution to the county for all expenses," Penelas wrote in a May 28 memo to County Manager Merrett Stierheim. "Although Mr. Jean-Baptiste has apologized for this situation, I find this behavior inexcusable and unacceptable."

Penelas, however, did not find the behavior inexcusable enough to fire Jean-Baptiste. Instead he decided to suspend the protocol chief for 30 days without pay. Penelas's chief of staff Sergio Gonzalez said the mayor believes the penalty is appropriate because Jean-Baptiste has been "a loyal and hard-working" employee. Jean-Baptiste, who has been with the county since 1985 and earns an annual salary of $42,750, could not be reached for comment.

County officials have referred the matter to the public corruption sections of the Miami-Dade Police Department and the State Attorney's Office.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede