Miami's Police Chief Once Slammed Joe Carollo for Trying to "Manipulate System to His Advantage"

The last time Joe Carollo sat on Miami's city commission, the police chief accused him of — no joke — trying to obtain an illegal concealed-weapons permit for a visiting sheikh tied to the Saudi royal family; telling the police he was being stalked and calling them into "secret" meetings that he would then refuse to show up for; accusing city officials of spying on him; repeatedly meddling in internal police matters; and, in the words of then-Chief Kenneth Harms, trying to "manipulate the system for his personal advantage and denigrate those career appointees who have the ethical fortitude to resist."

Now, after a decades-long hiatus, Carollo wants that same job once more.

Miami — crazy, neon-hazed, bullet-ridden, coked-out-disco-glow Miami — has never had a politician quite as insane as ex-Mayor Joe Carollo. He is Miami's Richard Nixon, its Donald Trump, its lunatic Caligula. Carollo would be a tragicomic figure if he weren't so damn sinister: As New Times noted last week, then-Mayor Carollo was arrested in 2001 for beating up his wife and leaving "golf-ball-sized" welts on her head as his children watched in horror.

Tomorrow, Miami voters will decide whether to elect Carollo to the commission once more. They unquestionably should not but almost certainly will. Carollo is running in District 3, which includes Little Havana and portions of Coconut Grove. His opponent, Alfonso "Alfie" Leon is, importantly, not Joe Carollo. Barring a miracle, though, Leon will lose.

How insane was Carollo's first run on the city commission? In the 1980s, when he served as vice mayor, he sparred with Chief Harms in a series of memos so outlandish they have arguably never been topped in terms of readability and entertainment value. (The memos were previously disclosed in New Times and Miami Herald reports when Carollo was mayor.)

"Commissioner Carollo has attempted to manipulate and pressure me into actions which would benefit him personally," Harms wrote in one memo. In another, he accused Carollo of trying to use his political sway to get a friend's traffic ticket dismissed.

Carollo did not answer a phone call to his office today but previously told New Times that "none of this is true." He accused Harms of retaliating after Carollo allegedly caught the chief conducting some sort of "illegal investigation."

At the time, Miami was in peak cocaine-crisis mode, and Harms had been a public servant for more than two decades.

And in a memo dated June 22, 1982, Harms wrote he'd never encountered a public official as crazy, conspiratorial, and transparently corrupt as Carollo.

At the time, Carollo had been personally involved in handing the key to the city of Miami to Sheikh Mohammed Al-Fassi, a Moroccan businessman who'd married into the Saudi royal family. According to the New York Times, Al-Fassi had recently relocated to Miami after pissing off his former Beverly Hills neighbors by painting genitalia on the statues erected on his property. After moving to South Florida, Al-Fassi proposed building a Big Ben-style clock tower on Star Island that would have bellowed the time in three languages every hour. His neighbors hated the idea.

But Carollo apparently had a soft spot for the sheikh. According to the memo from Harms to then-City Manager Howard Gary, Carollo repeatedly pressured the chief to give Al-Fassi presidential-style motorcades to shuttle the businessman to city meetings, charity events, his home, and even the Diplomat Hotel in Broward County. Harms said he repeatedly refused, claiming motorcades were reserved for the U.S. president and vice president and some visiting heads of state. But at one event, Harms relented and sent a plainclothes security detail, and someone responded by trying to pay off each cop with $100. At a second event, the chief complained that someone tried to slip the cops an envelope containing $600.

At a May 2 meeting that year, Harms also said the sheikh had asked Carollo for a gun. By the chief's retelling, Carollo asked whether the city could toss Al-Fassi into Miami's "Special Officer Program," which lets certain public officials carry handguns. Obviously, enrolling Al-Fassi would have been illegal, which Harms relayed to Carollo. Naturally, the chief claimed, Carollo neither cared nor understood and mentioned that he himself had controversially gotten himself a gun through the same program despite the fact that, during his background check, his past employers warned the city not to hand him a weapon. (Carollo is a former Miami cop and Florida International University security guard.)

"Barring any of the legal considerations, I am appalled that the Vice-Mayor of Miami would be willing to subject this community to immeasurable embarrassment and ridicule in order to fulfill a personal obligation," Harms wrote. "As the Chief of Police and as one who has served this City for twenty-three years, I am thankful and encouraged that this did not occur."

Harms also wrote that Carollo once demanded that three cops with whom he was friendly be transferred to departments of Carollo's choosing, leading Harms to call him an "over-zealous, demanding elected official who seeks out circumstances to test his capacity to influence and pressure the Police Department for personal gain." Harms also said Carollo's actions disrupted "the structure and harmony of the Miami Police Department." (To be fair to Carollo, New Times must admit it's unclear whether MPD has ever operated with "structure" or "harmony.") Harms wrote that he was convinced Carollo would withhold city funding from the police department whenever Harms refused to honor the favors.

Most notable, Harms said Carollo had a world-class paranoiac streak, something he would later display in full force as mayor. In the early 1980s, Harms wrote that Carollo regularly accused city officials and various enemies of "spying" on him.

Harms' story here deserves to be rehashed in full, because it's next-level bonkers. (The bolding is courtesy of New Times.)

Commissioner Carollo has brought to my attention his fears for his personal safety. As a law enforcement officer, I understand my obligation to be sensitive to such concerns; especially when expressed by elected officials with high public profiles. I have dispatched investigators to both his office and residence. Though claiming urgent circumstances and "special information," his insistence on "clandestine" meetings with my investigators, times of which he has even failed to show up or return calls, has become an embarrassing and dramatic charade to which city resources have been wastefully dedicated.

Wrapping up the letter, Harms admitted his department had problems, but he claimed they were nothing compared to what Carollo was doing at the commission level.

The chief said he felt "duty-bound" to express his "concerns that the private, personal, and emotional interests of an elected official are eroding the integrity of this agency."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.