Prisoners of Their Own Circumstance

What are the odds that Miller Dawkins and Cesar Odio will be bunkmates in prison? And if they are, will Dawkins continue to order Odio around the way he did when he was a Miami commissioner and Odio was the city manager? Or will the big house instill a new social order in their relationship?

For instance, will Dawkins have learned enough prison lingo by the time Odio arrives to refer to him as "new fish?" Will they pump weights together in the prison yard, make shivs out of spoons, and join a gang? Will they bribe the screws with cigarettes -- just to keep in practice?

And suppose there's a race war in the cell block: Will caged heat envelop the two former city officials, forcing them to square off, or will Odio turn to Dawkins and ask, as he once inquired of another: "Are you going to protect me? That's all I want to hear. Because I will do the same."

Unfortunately, few can predict the future. Wilfredo Fernandez, the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, says he does not know if Odio will be sent to the same West Kendall prison camp where Dawkins is currently incarcerated. "That decision will be made by the Bureau of Prisons," he explains. "But given the nature of the offense and the fact that he is from Miami, if there is space available, that is probably the most likely place for him." As for the likelihood of Odio and Dawkins becoming screw-bribing roommates, Fernandez says, "I don't want to get into that at all."

Dawkins and Odio certainly deserve each other. Last week, Dawkins began serving a 27-month sentence for accepting $100,000 in bribes during the FBI sting known as Operation Greenpalm. Two weeks ago, Odio pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and now faces up to ten years in prison, although the standard range for his offense is between ten and sixteen months.

When U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore delivers Odio's punishment on August 20, he should remember Odio's lack of remorse just ten minutes after pleading guilty. Standing on the courthouse steps, a battery of cameras and microphones arrayed before him, Odio declared: "Believe me when I tell you I did not let anybody down."

Exactly who is it that Odio didn't let down? He couldn't have been referring to the citizens of Miami. Setting aside for a moment his criminal conduct, it was Odio's incompetence that brought the city to the verge of bankruptcy. Odio wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money padding the city's payroll with friends and political hacks. He treated the city's finances as if they were his own private slush fund. And he made every effort to keep the city's financial problems a secret.

Didn't he also let down his family, particularly his wife and his mother, by bringing disgrace to his name? Or does Odio have so little honor that those things mean nothing to him? He certainly let down his fellow Cuban Americans. Indeed, Odio's betrayal of his own people is staggering. After he was indicted, Odio ran to the Spanish-language radio stations to cry about how he was being wrongly accused and that he was innocent. Nowhere during those programs did he mention lying, obstructing justice, or conspiring to take money -- all of which he has since acknowledged doing. At a press conference last September in his lawyer's office, Odio declared: "I have nothing to hide. The facts will prove me right." Instead the facts now prove him to be a felon.

At least when Dawkins was caught he had the decency to keep his mouth shut. Dawkins could have easily played on the fears and the anguish of the black community by appearing on WMBM-AM (1490) and arguing that he was being wrongly accused because of his race.

Yet Odio and his supporters continue to exploit the loyalty of the Cuban-American community and undermine their faith in the justice system by suggesting that Odio, despite his plea, is not guilty but is instead a martyr. "I haven't changed my opinion whatsoever," declared Cuban American National Foundation president Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez the day after Odio admitted guilt. "I still feel he is innocent of these charges and that he had no choice but to plead guilty because of the pressure placed on him and his family. This man was caught in a situation he did not want and it is sad that justice must rely on a crook to entrap a man who has served this community for seventeen years."

Odio and his allies are attempting to rewrite history based on the deal that the erstwhile city manager made with federal prosecutors. Hernandez and others are quick to point out that Odio did not plead guilty to any of the corruption charges, merely obstruction of justice. A closer reading of the facts shows this reasoning to be as faulty as Odio's ethics. Although under the plea bargain the corruption charges were dropped, Odio was still required to admit in court that he did in fact conspire to receive kickbacks from a city insurance contract.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede