The Miami-Dade Ethics Commission is accusing Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff of failing to report a pretty sweet trip to Brazil earlier this year as a gift. Back in April, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau covered all of Sarnoff's traveling expenses when he and his wife Teresa traveled to Itajai, Brazil for the Volvo Ocean Race. Sarnoff was the Miami dignitary at the stop prior to the race's arrival in the Magic City. The organizers of the race covered his wife's airfare too.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Joe Centorino says Sarnoff should have reported those reimbursements as gifts.
Sarnoff disagrees, insisting he was acting as a city official when he went to the South American country. He adds he got an opinion from City Attorney Julie Bru that stated the trip was not a gift. "I didn't try to hide this from anyone," he says. "I followed the advice of our city attorney."
Sarnoff also claims the Ethics Commission is being inconsistent because last year the watchdog body opined that North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre did not have to report an all expenses paid trip to China because he was on official city business. He says his wife "provided support on a paralegal basis."
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"That is why the city attorney opined that this trip was not private business," Sarnoff asserts. "I think the city attorney was right in her opinion."
Centorino says Sarnoff's case is not as clear-cut as Pierre's, noting the North Miami mayor's trip was covered by a governmental agency. The Miami tourism bureau receives public funding, but it is a private organization. So is the Volvo Ocean Race.
"He had the good sense of getting an opinion from the city attorney," Centorino says. "But this is something he should have contacted us because we are the ones who ultimately have the power to enforce it. We felt he needed to report the trip as a gift.