Marc Sarnoff Met With Jorge Perez, But Mercy Condos Never Came Up

Joe Arriola is an arranger, a fixer of sorts. So when

Marc Sarnoff was elected to the Miami City Commission, Arriola thought it was a

good idea to arrange a sit-down between his pal of 25 years, prominent

developer Jorge Perez, and Coconut Grove's new political capo di tutti

Arriola knew Sarnoff wasn't

keen on Perez's plan to build a three-tower condo project on land owned by

Mercy Hospital. So two months before the city commission's first zoning

hearing, Arriola invited Perez and Sarnoff over to his sprawling South Miami

estate for Sunday-morning breakfast.

"I figured that by maybe getting

the two principals together, we could stop a lot of the public posturing,"

Arriola recalled in a 2007 sworn statement. "At the end of the day, they agreed

to disagree and shook hands." 

Sarnoff, who ultimately voted against the condos,

tells me he met with many builders following his win but that he never

spoke to them about specific projects in the city.

"It was to show them I wasn't a three-headed monster," says

Sarnoff, who ran on a controlled development platform.

Arriola's testimony about the breakfast meeting recently surfaced when Cornelius Shiver, a Miami attorney currently suspended from practicing law in Florida, filed a Miami-Dade ethics commission complaint accusing Sarnoff of violating a state law that prohibits elected officials from speaking in private to anyone about a zoning matter before casting their vote. 

​The ethics commission dismissed Shiver's complaint as "not legally sufficient" because the three-year statute of limitations had passed.

Shiver says Sarnoff needed to be exposed. "He's always crusading against others of being unethical," Shiver says. "But he is not so squeaky-clean himself." 

The commissioner says Shiver, who volunteered for Sarnoff's opponent Linda Haskins in 2006, has no credibility. "He's a disbarred lawyer," Sarnoff says, "and he hates me." 

Sarnoff's detractor provided me with copies of Arriola's 2007 sworn statement, as well as investigators' interviews with Perez and Sarnoff. The commissioner first said he did not meet with anyone prior to his vote and then acknowledged the sit-down with Perez. But he vehemently denied they talked about the Mercy project. "We talked about predominantly who everybody was backing for president," he said. 

During the Q&A session, state prosecutor Jorge Cueto noted that Arriola had sworn he set up the meeting "with the express purpose for [Sarnoff] to discuss with Perez the Mercy Towers" and reminded the commissioner he was under oath. 

"If you did, you know, it's OK," Cueto said. "I mean, we have basically given you immunity. If you lie about it, that's a problem." 

Sarnoff stuck to his story. "The only thing I recall being discussed was Joe's backing for Barack Obama," Sarnoff said, "and [Perez] was backing Hillary Clinton." 

Of that first meeting with Sarnoff, Perez said, "I didn't know him from Adam. So it was a good thing that I at least got to see him and talk." 

So if Mercy didn't come up, what else did the developer and commissioner discuss? Development in general, the Miami Art Museum, and how he was "not the typical developer," Perez said.

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.
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.