A group of Miami leaders and residents are demanding the resignation of city commissioner Joe Carollo following last week's multimillion-dollar abuse-of-power verdict against him in federal court.
On June 6, a coalition of community stakeholders, local entrepreneurs, and former elected officials will hold a morning press conference at Miami City Hall to demand Carollo's resignation and denounce what they claim amounted to "decades of corruption and continuous harassment" of small businesses and residents who politically opposed him.
"Attendees will demand Joe Carollo's immediate resignation in light of a recent jury verdict, where he has been held accountable and ordered to pay $63.5 million in damages for his retaliatory actions against businesses in Little Havana," a media release states.
The press conference will begin at 9 a.m.
Speakers are slated to include Cuban-American politicians and former Miami mayors Tomas Regalado and Manuel A. Diaz, as well as former city manager Joe Arriola, according to filmmaker and longtime Carollo critic Billy Corben, who helped organize the event and will also be in attendance.
On June 1, following a nearly two-month trial, a Broward County jury reached a civil verdict in favor of Ball & Chain owner Bill Fuller and his business partner Martin Pinilla, who accused the commissioner of vengefully directing municipal employees to target the duo's businesses over a personal vendetta. The jury found that Carollo's actions violated Fuller and Pinilla's First Amendment rights.
The verdict awarded $8.6 million in compensatory damages and $25.7 million in punitive damages to Fuller while granting $7.3 million in compensatory damages and $21.9 million in punitive damages to Pinilla. It remains unclear who will ultimately foot the bill.
"Five and a half years it took us to get here. Not only was [Carollo] a bully but he was also a coward. He used every legal remedy to take us all the way to the Supreme Court, hoping that he would break us so that we wouldn't arrive today," Fuller said after the verdict was handed down. "We are proud today that this jury, this judge, found our way."
He added: "And once and for all, it feels great to finally smush that cucaracha."
Carollo's attorney Mason Pertnoy released a statement chiding Fuller for name-calling and saying Carollo plans to appeal the verdict. The statement signaled the commissioner has no immediate plans to step down.
"Unlike the plaintiffs, who seem to have now resorted to disparaging comments about the commissioner and City of Miami employees, the commissioner will continue to serve all citizens of District 3 and the City of Miami fairly and equally in protecting health, safety, and quality of life," Pertnoy said.
Fuller and Pinilla filed the federal lawsuit against Carollo in his personal capacity in 2018, accusing the commissioner of mounting a campaign of targeted harassment against them. They claimed Carollo sicced code enforcement and city employees on Ball & Chain (a lounge with a storied history in Little Havana), Union Beer Store (a craft beer bar), and Sanguich de Miami (an eatery that serves Cuban sandwiches) in retaliation for the plaintiffs' support of Carollo's opponent in the 2017 run-off election for city commission.
Carollo's lawyer Benedict Kuehne told New Times that the lawsuit was a baseless case "brought by local business owners who continue to refuse to comply with the laws applicable to all business owners in the City of Miami."
Carollo was previously embroiled in controversy over corruption claims in 2021, when then-Miami Chief of Police Art Acevedo publicly accused the commissioner of misusing his office to wield power over the police department. In a Miami municipal dispute that made national headlines, Acevedo claimed Carollo interfered with an internal investigation into a sergeant at arms and pressured Acevedo and other police officers to arrest protesters despite a lack of evidence that a crime had been committed.
Acevedo also claimed the Miami Police Department had wasted "untold hours investigating business establishments because of the improper political influence of and intimidation" by the commissioner. The chief was fired three weeks after he penned a letter to the city manager and Mayor Francis Suarez outlining the allegations.
Carollo denied the claims. After Acevedo sued over the ouster in January 2022, the commissioner said the former chief's accusations were "all based on the world of Acevedo and the lies of Acevedo," CBS Miami reported.
Carollo's political career dates back to 1979 when he was elected to the Miami city commission in his mid-20s. He served as Miami's mayor from 1996 to 1997 and then reclaimed the office in 1998 after winning a court battle over alleged fraudulent ballots that he claimed helped his 1997 election opponent, Xavier Suarez, father of Miami's current mayor. In 2001, Carollo was succeeded as mayor by Manuel Diaz.
The 68-year-old Cuba-born politician's tumultuous career in public office continued during his stint as Doral city manager, a position he held from 2013 to 2014, when he was fired amid allegations of bullying and intimidation. Carollo filed a civil case challenging his removal, and he was subsequently reinstated before tendering his resignation.
Carollo has held his current position as city commissioner since 2017.