| Columns |

Michelle Spence-Jones Trial Begins Today

The Michelle Spence-Jones public corruption saga is entering its final act. Her trial on grand theft and bribery charges begins today.

Since her initial arrest in November 2009, days following her reelection

to the Miami City Commission, Spence-Jones has maintained she will be

exonerated. By the end of the week, we'll find out if a jury believes state prosecutors' claims that Spence-Jones that she shook down a prominent developer for $12,500.

Whatever the conclusion, her case represents a cautionary tale about Miami politics: Never trust anyone, even those who call themselves your mentor.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Scruggs relied on the testimony of Barbara Carey-Shuler, a former county commissioner who mentored Spence-Jones, to build a case against the suspended Miami elected official. Under oath, Carey-Shuler informed the prosecutor that her signature was forged on letters authorizing a company controlled by Spence-Jones and her family to receive the grants. Months later, Carey-Shuler recanted part of her testimony while being deposed by Spence-Jones' attorneys.

Carey-Shuler, it should be noted, escaped prosecution on unrelated public corruption charges when a former ally, Antonio Junior, ratted her out. He claimed to have delivered kickbacks to Carey-Shuler in the 1990s, but the information was worthless because the statute of limitations had run out. So credibility is not her strongest suit. We'll see if jurors buy Carey-Shuler's performance on the stand.

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