Miami Suspiciously Sues Carollo's Alleged Enemy Amid Vendetta

Update: A Miami-Dade County judge has denied the city's request to shut down Fuller's lot.

Bill Fuller, who co-owns the historic, infamous Little Havana bar Ball & Chain (as well as many other properties in the neighborhood), claims Miami commissioner and former mayor "Crazy Joe" Carollo has launched a political vendetta against him. The reason: Fuller kinda-sorta supported Carollo's 2017 election opponent Alfie Leon.

This past March, Carollo was photographed in a car that was idling outside Ball & Chain's parking lot at midnight. Multiple witnesses and former Carollo staffers say the commissioner shouted "I am the law!" when confronted. And one former Carollo aide said his boss instructed him to lie to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust in order to smear Fuller.

Amid all of this, the City of Miami has filed a legal injunction in an attempt to shut down an outdoor marketplace on one of Fuller's other properties. City Attorney Victoria Mendez filed the complaint this past August 23. The city alleges the Calle Ocho Marketplace is rife with "unsecured" storage containers that could, theoretically, blow apart during a hurricane and hurt people. The lawsuit includes photos of the storage kiosks, which have clear glass doors and are, in some cases, sitting on cinderblocks.

Of course, it's deeply suspicious that the city has sued Fuller while the 63-year-old Carollo is alleged to have a vendetta against Fuller's properties. The Barlington Group, a company co-owned by Fuller, says Carollo is "selectively" filing a raft of complaints against the company to punish the owner for supporting Leon.

Local blogger Al Crespo, who first reported the suit earlier today, showed that the city is transparently selective. Crespo drove around Miami and photographed an array of 12 "unsecured" storage containers the City of Miami apparently allowed.

Reached by phone, Fuller's lawyer, Alex Orlofsky, explains, "The report in the Crespogram speaks for itself. This lawsuit was filed against my client, but I don’t know if the city has filed any lawsuits against any other property owners that have shipping containers at all. In general, we're very pleased that these incidents [regarding Carollo] have come to light."

New Times has asked Mendez, Miami's lead city attorney, if Carollo or any of his allies asked her to file the legal injunction. She has not yet responded. But legal documents show Fuller and the city are set to meet in Miami-Dade County Court tomorrow to sort out the code-compliance issues. Carollo's attorney, Ben Kuehne, has not responded to multiple messages from New Times over the past week.

Yesterday New Times reported on a massive trove of interviews conducted by the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust. Fuller filed a complaint against Carollo this past March but withdrew from the case in August; he says he's debating whether to file harsher civil or criminal charges. That withdrawal allowed the ethics board to make the case file public. Nearly 20 people corroborated major portions of Fuller's claims, including the now-infamous incidents in which Carollo tried to shut down Fuller's December Christmas party by claiming "illegal drugs" were being distributed at the event.

Other witnesses said Carollo tried to shut down a food truck parked in Fuller's lot by claiming, falsely, that it was selling "rotten food."

Two code-compliance officers said Carollo and members of his staff had instructed them to focus on Calle Ocho. One called it "unusual." The staffers told the ethics board they'd never received direction from a sitting city commissioner before Carollo launched his campaign against Fuller.

In a sit-down with the ethics board, Carollo in April claimed without evidence that Fuller has ties to Cuban communists, Venezuelan guerrillas, and money launderers. (Fuller claims those statements are libelous.) Carollo says he's simply doing the sort of ground-level patrolling in his district that any commissioner ought to do. But Stephen Miró, Carollo's former aide, disagreed when ethics investigators asked him if Carollo had a vendetta against Fuller and his companies.

"In my opinion, yes," Miró said. He added that, after the ethics complaint was filed, Carollo instructed Miró to make up the fact that residents had complained about Fuller. "Joe wanted me to say there were anonymous complaints, and there were none," Miró said, adding that Carollo tried to "coerce [him] into saying something that was totally not true."

After New Times published the information from the ethics complaint, Carollo — whose lawyer didn't return New Times' request for comment — decided to speak on the record to the Miami Herald for a story published this afternoon. Unsurprisingly, the commissioner called Miró "a liar."
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.