Another city mayor in Miami-Dade has been busted this morning. Less than a month after the arrests of Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi on federal bribery charges, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office is accusing Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman of unlawful compensation.
At his home earlier this morning, detectives handcuffed Bateman in connection with a $125-an-hour secret consulting gig for Community Health of South Florida Inc., a nonprofit organization that needed the city's blessing to help expand its chain of health clinics, according to the Miami Herald.
Bateman was hired by Community Health to consult on construction projects. He has a county license to install awnings, shutters, and screen enclosures but is not a general contractor or registered lobbyist. The mayor never publicly disclosed the lucrative arrangement to his colleagues on the city council, which holds sway over CHI's plans.
He also failed to inform county officials, including Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, when he personally lobbied them to fast-track a multimillion-dollar Homestead sewer system expansion that would facilitate construction of a proposed CHI children's clinic in downtown Homestead.
Bateman, 58, is running for re-election in November against several candidates, including Mark Bell, husband of his longtime nemesis Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell. Since he was first elected in 2009, Bateman has been accused of questionable behavior, ranging from allegedly covering up an accident involving his city-issued SUV to vandalizing the city-owned baseball complex leased to Miami lawyer John Ruiz's sports company.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office and the Miami-Dade ethics commission are also conducting separate investigations into allegations Bateman pushed for a sweetheart land deal for a school that hired his wife Donna as its real estate broker in 2011.
At the time, Bateman was running for re-election and received at least 15 contributions of $500 each from Dade Medical College head honcho Ernesto Perez and people tied to his school. According to public records, including emails, Bateman pressured Homestead government staffers and manipulated the process to help Perez purchase 3.5 acres of city-owned land -- while steering Perez's real estate transaction to Bateman's wife, Donna, a real estate broker. Dade Medical agreed to buy the property for $328,000 -- roughly one-third of its value as determined by an independent real estate appraisal.
Though the mayor abstained from the Dade Medical deal vote, he did not disclose that his wife's real estate agency would receive a commission or that she had represented the college in other purchases of downtown properties.
In an article published in this week's Miami New Times, Perez insists there was no quid pro quo. "We paid a fair price for that land given the state of the real estate market when we made the deal," he said. "I don't really know what [Bateman] did wrong when the rest of the council voted unanimously for it."
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.
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