Powers That Be

Katherine Fernandez Rundle is facing the most significant election challenge of her eleven-year tenure as Miami-Dade State Attorney, and she saw it coming. Eight years ago she ran unopposed. Four years ago political newcomer Al Milian came within eleven percentage points of defeating her. Backed by the county's powerful police union, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), Milian has spent the past four years laying the groundwork for the upcoming November 2 election. Moreover, in this partisan race, an independent candidate, Gary Rosenberg, threatens to siphon off support from Rundle's traditional strongholds in the Anglo and Jewish communities.

To fortify herself, Rundle, a Democrat, has gone after the big money. With the help of fiancé David Efron, a wealthy lawyer active in Democratic national politics and Puerto Rican business and legal circles, Rundle had amassed $456,000 in contributions and loans by the end of August (the latest required reporting period). Through Efron's efforts, nearly $40,000 from Puerto Rico has poured into Rundle's campaign coffers.

Rundle dwarfs Republican Milian in fundraising, and her contributors' list reads like a who's who of wealthy, influential Miami: car dealers Norman Braman and Alan Potamkin; bankers Adolfo Henriques, Leonard Abess, and Carlos Migoya; Spanish Broadcasting System CEO Raul Alarcon; retired Knight Ridder CEO Alvah Chapman, Perry Ellis CEO George Feldenkreis, developers Leonard Miller and Martin Margulies, attorneys Robert Traurig and Cesar Alvarez. And in a race that allows corporate contributions, Rundle has raked it in, from major law firms to the Fanjul family's sugar companies.

But in this election season, Rundle is learning that cozying up to the rich and powerful can make you a target. Not long ago she stepped squarely into her critics' crosshairs when she attended an intimate fundraising event hosted by a politically active businessman whose daughter had a criminal case pending at the State Attorney's Office. Rundle maintains she knew nothing about the case, which prosecutors eventually dropped. Her presence at the businessman's office, however, was embarrassing for another reason -- at the time, he was under surveillance by the public-corruption unit of the county police department.

It's safe to say that politics was the farthest thing from the mind of 23-year-old Jacqueline Pino as she stood outside the South Beach nightclub crobar at 2:00 a.m. on July 4. She just wanted to have fun. Unfortunately her friend, Vanessa Gonzalez, got into a shouting match with another woman, pushing past cops who were trying to defuse the situation. When two Miami Beach officers placed Gonzalez under arrest, she allegedly said to Pino: "Fuck this, I'm going to jail, get the stuff out of my front right pocket," according to the arrest report. Pino then reached into her friend's pants pocket and pulled out a small baggie of cocaine, the report states. Both women were arrested for felony possession. Pino's lawyer, Juan Mourin, counters that police had given Pino permission to take Gonzalez's keys and wallet during the arrest and that she had no idea drugs were among the items. She has no prior record and, say family members, does not use drugs.

Pino is the daughter of Sergio Pino, founder and CEO of Century Partners Group, parent company of a conglomerate that includes real-estate, development, and construction-supply businesses. A former president of the Latin Builders Association, Pino has been deeply involved in local politics for many years and has had close ties to a number of elected officials, from Alex Penelas to Xavier Suarez, as well as indicted former county commissioners Miriam Alonso and Joe Gersten. His relationship with well-known county lobbyists Chris Korge and Rodney Barreto was once so tight they were known as "the three amigos." Despite his support of Democrat Rundle, Pino is an established Republican Party fundraiser and major supporter of Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother the president, who, Pino says, will be visiting his home in two weeks.

On July 22, while his daughter's criminal case was pending, Sergio Pino held a private get-together at the Century Partners office, 7270 NW Twelfth Street, to raise money for Rundle's campaign. "We got a group of friends together who gave her some checks," Pino says. "I have always supported Kathy Fernandez Rundle. She is a friend. She didn't know of this arrest and I swear I did not speak to her or anyone else about it. What happened to my daughter was a mistake and we didn't need anybody's help to clear it up."

Former county mayoral candidate and Century Partners board member José Cancela attended the gathering, as did businessmen Alberto Perez, Fausto Padron, Thomas Iglesias, and Cesar Llano, who works for the Century companies. Also in attendance was Jorge Lorenzo, whose H&J Asphalt and H&J Paving companies donated $1000. In 2000 H&J Paving was implicated in the Church & Tower scandal, in which auditors alleged the county was billed for work that was never done. Pino, his wife, and four of his companies -- Century Properties, Century Investors, Century Plumbing, and Century Duty Free -- each donated the $500 maximum at the event. Two more Pino companies had donated earlier, for a grand total of $4500. (During Rundle's 2000 campaign, Pino and his wife each donated $500, but none of his Century companies made contributions.)

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten

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