Miami-Dade to Vote on No-Bid Deal to Sell Public Land to Mayor's Son

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez Miami-Dade County Mayor's Office
click to enlarge Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez - MIAMI-DADE COUNTY MAYOR'S OFFICE
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Miami-Dade County Mayor's Office
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has two sons who magically keep getting involved in some pretty lucrative deals with the Miami-Dade County government. The mayor's son C.J. is a local lobbyist who very conveniently works as a liaison between the City of Miami and David Beckham's Major League Soccer group.

Now, his son Julio is also looking to do business with daddy's government. Julio Gimenez is reportedly part of a group looking to build an "eco-friendly" steel mill in Miami-Dade County. And, in what absolutely must be just a coincidence, the county has proposed selling Julio's company a plot of public land for $16.8 million in a no-bid deal. The proposal is up for a formal vote at a county commission meeting next Tuesday.

According to Miami Herald reporter Doug Hanks, the proposal hasn't even been reviewed by any county committee yet:
As the Herald first reported last year, Julio Gimenez's business group first pitched the county on the idea in 2017. The company, called "Ecosteel USA," wants to build a 124-acre industrial park that would employ 1,800 people on the plot of land, which is near Homestead Air Base. In addition to the land purchase, Ecosteel says the project will cost another $240 million to build. The company was, conveniently, proposing a new American steel mill while the Trump administration was proposing large-scale tariffs on foreign steel imports – especially from China.

In May 2017, Mayor Gimenez formally recused himself from matters relating to the steel mill. But his recusal hasn't quashed criticism that his kids may be leveraging their father's clout to do business with the county. Critics have assailed Gimenez's ethics for years, especially regarding his son C.J.'s work. Because C.J. most often works as a lobbyist in the City of Miami rather than the county, the mayor claims he is under no obligation to recuse himself from dealing with companies that employ his son. But critics note that even if C.J. and his father aren't directly working together, the mayor's decisions could still be impacting his son's job or financial well-being.

In 2014, the Trump Organization hired C.J. Gimenez as a lobbyist while Trump was mounting an ultimately failed bid to take over the Crandon Golf Course. Yet Mayor Gimenez dealt directly with the Trump group during those negotiations. And throughout discussions with the Beckham team, the mayor has once again said he is not required to step away.

In December, longtime Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago took the Gimenez family's ethics to task over this issue — and a pissed-off Gimenez then fired off a melodramatic letter to the editor defending himself. Regarding Julio, he wrote:
Second, my son Julio is a construction executive who has not been directly involved in any county projects until this year, when he registered as a lobbyist in July on a project that involves a proposed steel mill. I immediately recused myself and assigned a deputy mayor to deal directly with that project and, as required by the County Charter, had the commission chair decide on whether the project ever goes before commissioners.

Julio also has been helping the nonprofit Neighbors and Neighbors Association with a rehabilitation facility for young offenders. Santiago writes, “In an ethical world, a good project gets a fair hearing — no matter who has the connections or not.” Incredibly, she ignores those very requirements that ensure a fair hearing is had because 1. I recuse myself; 2. The commission chair makes a determination if the project merits consideration; and 3. Commissioners — not the mayor — decide what projects get funded.

Those who want to make political hay out of nothing have filed numerous ethics complaints over the years, and each time the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has determined they have no merit. I am proud of both my sons for studying a craft, working hard and earning a decent living.

My integrity and ethics are sacrosanct. There’s a recusal process, it’s transparent and I follow it.
Of course, Mayor Gimenez isn't the only local politician with allegedly unethical family ties. As New Times has previously noted, the Beckham group has also hired the aunt of City of Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon as a lobbyist, but Hardemon likewise hasn't recused himself from matters related to the project. And, in March, a local accountant sued the City of Miami and alleged that Keon's aunt and uncle, Barbara and Billy Hardemon, were soliciting what amount to bribes to help local developers curry favor with their nephew.

The Hardemons denied the claims. But this is not the first time Billy Hardemon has been accused of soliciting bribes: In 1998, federal prosecutors alleged that he and his then-boss, County Commissioner James Burke, had taken illegal payoffs to favor a San Francisco businessman who wanted to finance the American Airlines Arena. Hardemon ultimately beat those charges.
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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.