North Miami Fined $154,000 After Councilwoman's Mom Gets Grant Money

For the last few years, the City of North Miami has maintained a Neighborhood Stabilization Program, designed to purchase foreclosed homes and help first-time homebuyers get a place to live. In 2011, Marie Charles-Brutus received some of that NSP money, then used it to buy and refurbish a house on NE 142nd Street. What the city didn't disclose, however, was that Charles-Brutus is the mother of Councilwoman Marie Steril.

By federal law, the city is required to report family connections if grant money is given. Because neither Steril nor the city made note of the potential conflict, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has ordered North Miami to pay $154,000.

The news was made public by Councilman Scott Galvin in an e-mail to his constituents. Calls to Councilwoman Steril's office seeking comment were not returned.

In a report dated July 26, HUD officials -- who were conducting a review of North Miami's Home Investment Partnership Program -- told the city that funds had been given to "a Commissioner's mother ... without first seeking HUD's exception to the Conflict of Interest provision."

When told about the violation, the HUD report notes that "city staff has indicated it was unaware of this requirement."

It's not the first time that Steril has run afoul of HUD. Back in June, the Miami Herald reported that Steril was letting a friend of hers live rent-free in HUD property for six months. When pressed on it, Steril told the Herald she was simply helping out a constituent. HUD didn't end up citing Steril or the city for that issue.

In his email, Galvin wrote that he had tipped off HUD to the violation back in February, and that the money to pay back HUD would be coming out of the city's General Fund. He also called for the Director of Community Planning, Maxine Calloway, to resign her position.

"In the case of using funds for Mrs. Steril's mother, the HUD report states that City staff 'indicated it was unaware' of the requirement to get a Conflict of Interest waiver," Galvin wrote. "This is unacceptable. It demonstrates complete lack of understanding of HUD policies she is tasked with enforcing."

Galvin added that North Miami would not be appealing the decision.

"This is ugly news but, rest assured, we are going to clean house in North Miami," Galvin wrote.

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Jon Tayler