This year has been, shall we say, a wild ride. In 2019, we sweated through one of the hottest years on record, met Baby Yoda, and watched Congress lurch through the fourth presidential impeachment in U.S. history. Game of Thrones ended, Michael Jackson was officially canceled, and the U.S. women's soccer team won the World Cup.
Here in Miami, it was... badness as usual. Corruption, grift, and general asshattery had as good a year as any in the 305. Millionaires got away with (pretty much anything short of) murder. Politicians went bonkers. Yet another religious figure turned out to be a Class A douchebag.
In a time-honored tradition, each December New Times celebrates South Florida's preeminent phonies, crooks, and craven toadies. Behold 2019's Dirty Dozen!
If you ripped the rotting, possibly arsenic-laden brain from Napoleon Bonaparte's corpse, crammed it into the head of Frankenstein's monster, and gave your newly created infernal being control over a battalion of police officers, you could sort of theoretically re-create what it's like to watch Joe Carollo stumble and blabber his way through his tenure as a Miami city commissioner. The former mayor — correctly dubbed "Loco Joe" decades ago — has effectively ground the city to a halt, clogged meetings with petty and bizarre feuds, and stacked the commission with loyalists Manolo Reyes and Alex Diaz de la Portilla. He has picked fights with, in no particular order, the mayor, the city manager, his own chief of staff, one of the most powerful landowners in his district, and even the city's police union. His former aide Stephen Miro is suing him for wrongful termination. Carollo's brain is riddled with holes, and we are all, improbably, living inside it.
Li "Cindy" Yang
The founder and former owner of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was caught allegedly paying for sexual services with trafficked women, reportedly sold access to the White House and marketed Mar-a-Lago in China when she wasn't selling sex. So, naturally, Li "Cindy" Yang built quite a collection of pictures of herself with Republican lawmakers. She watched the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl with Donald Trump and took a selfie to prove it. She met Congressman Matt Gaetz and took a selfie to prove it. She met Sen. Rick Scott and took a selfie to prove it. She spotted Gov. Ron DeSantis and took a selfie to prove it. And Donald Trump again. And Eric Trump. And Don Jr.
Jerry Falwell Jr.
Jerry Falwell Jr. claims to be a man of God. He's the head of the fundamentalist Liberty University in Virginia and a disciple of the holiest of public figures, President Donald J. Trump. Faith means everything to Falwell, and he applies all the rigors of the Bible's teachings to his student body: Dancing with the opposite sex is forbidden, as are drinking and homosexuality, lest sin be invited into their lives. The man also happens to be a shameless hypocrite.
In fact, were it not for Falwell's naked hypocrisy, Floridians would have little use for this huckster evangelist. In 2012, Falwell, an ardent homophobe, purchased and operated a gay-friendly hostel in South Beach with a former Fontainebleau pool attendant with no business experience who had "befriended" Falwell and his wife during their stay at the luxury resort. This year, photos emerged of Falwell partying at a Miami Beach nightclub and posing with the friendly pool attendant at a resort in Islamorada. The news came with mention of unpublished photos obtained by the Miami Herald, which described Falwell's wife "in various stages of undress."
Falwell's pathetic stumble through scandal after scandal has been good for cheap laughs and, for the more biblically minded, even a parable for hypocrites: The more sanctimonious the judgement-passing, the bigger the skeletons hiding in the closet.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman
Two Soviet-born associates of Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — burst onto the political scene this year in spectacular fashion. Over the summer, questions began swirling about the South Florida businessmen's connection to the Trump administration. Then, in October, Parnas and Fruman — dead ringers for the burglars in Home Alone — were arrested for making illegal campaign contributions and formally accused of helping Giuliani investigate allegations of wrongdoing by Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine. Soon it was revealed the duo had donated more than $100,000 to Florida Republicans, including Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump, for his part, denied knowing Parnas and Fruman despite appearing in multiple photos with the men. ("I have pictures with everybody," the president unconvincingly explained.) Parnas and Fruman, meanwhile, have pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. Only time will tell if the two will join Trump associates Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen in the pen.
Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub is a walking case of racist verbal diarrhea. Earlier this year, she accused Rashida Tlaib — the first Muslim woman to serve on the Michigan Legislature and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress — of being a terrorist. In a Facebook post, Lima-Taub called the congresswoman a "Hamas-loving anti-Semite" who would "blow up Capitol Hill." No amount of shame and scorn prompted an apology from her. Instead, she doubled down and compared Tlaib to Hitler.
The commissioner has promoted a far-right, Islamophobic website tied to Pizzagate and shares questionable articles on a Facebook page called "The Rogue Commissioner." If you're wondering about her priorities and values, the page tells you a lot of what you need to know, such as she finds it "sooooo encouraging" that the youngest black legislator in America successfully ran on a campaign of "God, guns, and babies."
Bob Zangrillo's children were as privileged as any kids could be. They grew up in the ultrawealthy jet set and are friends with the Hadid family. All they had to do to live a life of relative luxury and ease was to earn average grades and not get arrested. They could go on to run PR firms for influencer dogs or craft lines of custom furniture made from discarded puka-shell necklaces. The world was theirs.
Instead, Zangrillo's daughter couldn't get into the University of Southern California, so Dad allegedly bribed the school. His arrest in the Lori Loughlin college bribery scandal foisted the character of Bob Zangrillo onto the world: The luxury real-estate developer (he's part of the team building the Magic City Innovation District in Little Haiti) loves to throw blowout parties and hang out shirtless with women covered in body paint. We hate him yet want Harmony Korine to make a film about him.
When the Miami Heat mercifully found a trade partner in the Portland Trailblazers to take Hassan Whiteside and his $27 million-a-year contract off the team's hands, the hope was that both parties could be on their respective ways — no hard feelings. Whiteside, however, had other ideas. As the door hit the inconsistent seven-foot center's ass on his way out of the Magic City this summer, he took to social medial to throw some shade at his former team. In one instance, Whiteside yelled, "We got shoooooooterrrrrrs," apparently implying the Trailblazers' perimeter was a major upgrade over the Heat's midrange.
Plot twist: Whiteside thought wrong. Today the Miami Heat is the team with the shooters, most notably Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and — hilariously — Meyers Leonard, the player Portland traded for Whiteside. Unfortunately for Hassan Whiteside, the Heat far and away bests his new team by just about every shooting measure.
Where in the world is Ghislaine Maxwell, the alleged madam of the late billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein? The accused procurer of underage girls could be in London or in France or in Prince Andrew's underpants. Recent sightings include a seemingly planted picture of her reading a book about CIA operatives at an In-N-Out in Los Angeles and a gigantic naked portrait of her inside a party room at Epstein's New Mexico ranch, as reported to tabloids by a former employee. Like the rarely seen Sasquatch or Florida's skunk ape, Maxwell has become a creature of pedophilic folklore.
With the sex-trafficking ring presumably dismantled following Epstein's suicide, it appears Maxwell's new job is staying out of the public eye. For someone who is accustomed to being photographed at lavish events with the Trumps, Elon Musk, Harvey Weinstein, and Prince Andrew, she has sure stayed out of sight. British tabloids are now spreading rumors that she's in talks to give a TV interview to defend the prince against allegations he kept a minor as a sex slave. Will she? Won't she? Where in the world is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Dr. Jose "Pepe" Armas
Dr. Jose "Pepe" Armas isn't a household name. But his jail healthcare company, Armor Correctional, has contracts with 32 clients in eight states, including Florida, making it one of the largest medical providers inside America's detention facilities. Armas rarely gives media interviews, and there's probably a good reason: Over the years, he has made millions while dozens of inmate patients have died in his company's care. To name just a few high-profile cases: Armor staff allegedly let a mentally ill man die of dehydration, withheld life-saving medication from a Vietnam veteran whose chronic heart condition killed him in days, and ignored cries for help from a pregnant woman whose baby died in a jail cell hours after she was born. Armas, meanwhile, was named to Florida International University's board of trustees and installed on the state's Constitutional Revision Commission by then-Gov. Rick Scott, who bafflingly called Armas "a distinguished physician." Surely the $127,750 Armas and Armor donated to Scott's political campaigns along the way is just a coincidence.
Like bees to honey, a buzzing mix of incompetents, con men, and cruel savants have swarmed the White House. All of them can be sorted into two categories: those who have been corrupted by their time in the Trump administration and those were bad to begin with. John Kelly unquestionably belongs in the latter. A widely venerated Marine Corps general, Kelly entered the president's orbit as many did, invoking a sense of duty and promising to tame some of the baser impulses emanating from the Oval Office. What a joke that was. His tenure as Trump's first head of Homeland Security, followed by a stint as White House chief of staff, was little more than a drawn-out capitulation to the hard-nosed ethnonationalism we've come to expect from this administration. Americans will remember Kelly as the man who defended the Muslim ban and then the inhumane separation of migrant children from their parents on the grounds that it was a "tough deterrent" of further migration. Floridians will remember him a bit differently.
After Trump gave him the boot, Kelly joined the board of Caliburn International, the for-profit company that operated the now-shuttered Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. That's right: The same man who presided over the government's extreme child-imprisonment policy might have profited from it in his corporate retirement. How's that for a nice grift?
Laura Loomer is one of the more concerning cases of brain worms circulating among a generation of right-wing internet ideologues. If you don't know her, consider yourself lucky. She's a devout Islamophobe with a pathetic martyr complex, and her greatest achievements consist of being kicked off tech platforms for undiluted bigotry. She got the boot from Uber and Lyft after expressing anger that the companies employed Muslim people. Facebook removed her account following an Instagram post in which she called Islam a "cancer on humanity." Twitter handed her a permaban for accusing a congresswoman of supporting sharia law and hating Jewish people. Then there's PayPal, Venmo, and, well, you get the point.
So what does the woman with the alt-right world at her feet and the ire of civil society at her back decide to do next? Run for U.S. Congress, naturally. And not just anywhere, but in Florida's District 21, which contains President Donald Trump's Palm Beach County resort, Mar-a-Lago. A match made in heaven, you could say.
When New Times this year caught then-Oakland Raider Antonio Brown mysteriously working out with a rep from a testosterone clinic run by Alex Rodriguez's former steroid dealers, we assumed that news entry would be the one that got the Miami native onto this list. We were wrong. In addition to being generally erratic and having a litany of other legal issues, Brown was accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed this year in Miami federal court. September 10, Brown's former trainer accused him in court of rape — and six days later, another woman told Sports Illustrated Brown had stripped nude next to her against her will and held nothing but a small towel over his genitals. By that time, Brown had been traded to the New England Patriots, who promptly cut him before the season began. There's no joke here. Good riddance.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.