Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman Accused of Vandalism

A dispute over a locked gate prompted Miami attorney John Ruiz, operator of La Ley Sports Complex in Homestead, to call the police on Mayor Steven Bateman this past March 7. According to a recently released investigative report, Ruiz accused Bateman of cutting the lock to the northwest gate of the complex at 1601 SE 28th Ave. so that students and parents could access a road that leads to the neighboring Keys Gate Charter High School. Ruiz, who had locked the gate, claimed the city had no authority to allow the school to use the road, which is part of the complex's property.

"I never had an issue with him," Ruiz says of Bateman. "He just lost it and took actions that he should not have taken as an elected official." Bateman did not return a message left on his cell phone seeking comment.

According to the report, Ruiz told Homestead Police Det. Federico Morales that he recieved a call from Bateman March 7 complaining about the locked gate. "John, you are putting me in a bad position," Bateman allegedly said. "I need you to do me a favor and remove the lock."

When he refused, Ruiz claims, the mayor threatened him. "The city is going to evict you, throw out all of your things, cut all the locks, and if you are there and get in their way, you will be arrested."

Later that morning, La Ley employee Mauricio Estiu called Ruiz to inform him that someone had cut the lock to the gate, allowing cars entering school grounds to use the closed-off road. Morales also interviewed Keys Gate Principal David McKnight, who provided a sworn statement. He said Bateman called him to let him know that the mayor "took care of the lock." McKnight also said Bateman bragged that he wanted to try out a new pair of bolt cutters he had just purchased. The principal subsequently met Bateman at the gate.

Another witness, schools maintenance supervisor Louie Carlo, told Morales that Bateman said, "It didn't even take a big bolt cutter to cut the lock."

On April 15, Morales met with Bateman to address the allegations. According to the detective's account, the mayor complained that Ruiz should be grateful that he supported the lawyer on many issues when the rest of the city council did not. Bateman also badgered the investigator as to who had provided sworn statements and why he was being left for last to be interviewed.

Bateman admitted driving to Keys Gate Charter School the day of the incident because he had been receiving calls about traffic backing up outside the school because of the locked gate. He then refused to answer further questions without his attorney being present. The mayor dodged several more attempts by Morales to reschedule the interview.

Since then, the city and Ruiz have sued each other in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The City of Homestead wants to evict La Ley Sports, alleging the company owes about $350,000 for insurance and utility bills and property taxes. Some of it was due in 2012. Ruiz entered a seven-year lease term in July 2011. By 2014, the company was to have begun paying rent -- a total of $275,000 -- and an additional $250,000 over the lease term for naming rights.

La Ley also had an option to purchase the property for $16 million. And the city waived a property-insurance requirement for about a year. Amid disagreements, the city has continued carrying the insurance at a cost to taxpayers of about $10,000 a month.

In a separate lawsuit, Ruiz has said that Homestead overbilled him for utilities. The city in April 2012 admitted it had billed La Ley $22,000 for a dumpster that wasn't on the property. Ruiz also claims the city rented out the road both to him and to a neighboring charter school.

On May 30, Isis Perez, a prosecutor with the public corruption unit of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, determined there was no probable cause to arrest Bateman.

Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.