Longform

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.

[email protected]

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede