Miami Commissioner Carollo Wants to Transfer City Anti-Poverty Money to Himself

Quite a lot of people in Miami are, sadly, poor. Luckily, the city has money set aside in an anti-poverty initiative to provide help, sometimes in the form of food or rent payments. City commissioners simply have to agree on a proposal and — voila! — aid is on its way. They almost never turn down a request from a colleague.

So it's a bit strange that Miami Commissioner "Loco Joe" Carollo is requesting the city transfer $65,000 earmarked for "anti-poverty" initiatives into his office's discretionary spending account. That request is buried in next week's commission agenda.

Carollo, who didn't answer a call or email seeking comment, claims the money will be used to pay for his district's "meals for the elderly" program and for expenditures consistent with the city's anti-poverty program. But there's an obvious problem with his request. Once money gets dumped into commissioners' "discretionary" accounts, they are allowed to cut checks for whatever they want. They do not need to get prior approval to spend money out of those accounts.

That stands in contrast to the way the city's anti-poverty fund generally works. Before cutting a check using money earmarked to help the poor, funding requests must usually be approved by the city commission. Carollo could easily just ask the commission to pay out $65,000 to a local caterer for meals. Instead, he wants the commission to trust him with a gigantic wad of basically unaccountable cash. (Local blogger Al Crespo first noted the agenda item earlier today.)

Two sources with direct knowledge of City of Miami government operations said it would be highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for a city commissioner to simply dump anti-poverty funds directly into a discretionary account.  "I've basically never heard of the commission denying an anti-poverty request," one high-level city source told New Times today. "But once the money goes into his discretionary account, there's basically no way for us to know how he's spending it."

Such a request from another commissioner might be ignored, but Carollo has been accused of abusing city money and his own meals-for-the-elderly program within the past 12 months. In June 2018, state investigators criminally probed whether he had illegally spent $3,702.72 in taxpayer money to buy plates of "farmer's paella" and other supplies for a friend's political campaign event. Carollo allegedly fired the staffer who reported the allegedly illegal spending to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. (The commissioner later claimed the staffer, Stephen Miro, was actually fired for sexual harassment, but Miro denies that charge.)

Carollo — an outlandish figure who has made a series of bizarre moves since he entered city politics four decades ago — was reelected to the city commission in November 2017 after a decade-long hiatus from city politics. (Before then, he'd spent his time calling opponents "communists," been arrested for allegedly beating his wife, and even tried to procure a city-issued gun for a member of the Saudi royal family. He also once opened an Asian-fusion restaurant called Shogun Joe's.)

In 2018, New Times obtained video showing that Carollo lied to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. This publication also reported that Carollo's former aide, Miro, said the commissioner told him to lie to ethics investigators. (New Times also obtained multiple images showing Carollo skulking around Little Havana properties late at night, bellowing, "I am the law!" in Spanish at a valet parking attendant who questioned him.)

Multiple code-enforcement employees told the ethics board that Carollo tried to get them to cite his enemies, which, if true, is a direct violation of city law and could be punishable by a $500 fine, 60 days in jail, and removal from office.

Carollo has also been accused of trying to usurp control of a local Little Havana arts event, Viernes Culturales, from his alleged enemy, real-estate owner Bill Fuller. Fuller helps run the event, which occurs monthly. Instead, Carollo has reportedly launched his own event, Little Havana Fridays, which competes with Viernes Culturales.

We will update this post when — or if — Carollo calls back.
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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.