Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones Beats Corruption Charges

On the afternoon of May 27, the thunderstorms had just subsided outside the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church at 301 NW Ninth St., but inside, Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones's angry voice boomed throughout the cavernous assembly hall. She was flanked by 30 to 40 supporters. Call it the Spence-Jones Vindication Show in Overtown.

"It's been almost two years of headaches and heartaches for me and my family," Spence-Jones intoned, "all based on innuendos and false allegations to divert attention from others' misdoings."

She didn't name them by name, but it was clear Spence-Jones was referring to ex-City Manager Joe Arriola and Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, the two individuals who provided the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office with secondhand, unconfirmed information that she was on the take.

From the beginning, Spence-Jones's supporters said race was a factor in what they described as a witch hunt. Sarnoff is the city's only Anglo commissioner, and Arriola is one of the most prominent Anglo Cuban-Americans in Miami. Together they initiated a criminal probe into the city's only black, and only female, commissioner.

Spence-Jones has always maintained Sarnoff came after her following the city commission's controversial approval of the Mercy Hospital/Related Group condo project in Coconut Grove.

Sarnoff, along with Tomas Regalado, voted against the project. Voting in favor were Spence-Jones, Joe Sanchez, and Angel Gonzalez. Sarnoff suggested Spence-Jones's vote had been bought off by lobbyists for the project.

When WPLG-TV reporter Glenna Milberg asked Spence-Jones why she believed racism factored into the criminal investigation, the commissioner's attorney, Richard Alayon, explained:

"There were three votes [for the Mercy project]. At no point was there any innuendo or rumors that the other two votes were influenced by lobbyists. Why were the lobbyists hired to lobby the other commissioners never questioned?... In politics, you go after the weakest individual, and that was her."

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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.