Terence Pinder symbolizes all that is crooked and wrong in the city of Opa-locka. The Herald has done a great job of telling his story thus far: a slick, charismatic populist with an affinity for ladies, P.F Chang’s, and Baptist melodrama. He was arrested last November and charged with, among other things, hiring a dead man and wooing women at cheesy restaurants on his city credit card. He bonded out, but was suspended from his post in December.
What the Herald hasn’t yet reported, though, is that the shit has finally hit the fan. A Florida Elections Comission report issued last week found “probable cause that [Pinder] committed 16 counts” of election fraud. The details are as juicy as Pinder’s sad history as a public official.
During the course of his two year career as an Opa-locka city comissioner, Pinder hid campaign kickbacks by claiming to be a part time employee for Ted Lucas over at Slip-N-Slide records. Or so said his ex-girlfriend and baby-mama, Ginger Williams.
Williams finally flipped on Pinder after she discovered that all those illicit Red Lobster dinners hadn’t been just for her. She turned state’s evidence against him a year ago this month. Pinder had been getting envelopes full of cash from a buddy, Dante Starks: kickbacks from his contruction company.
Williams has been assaulted twice, for her trouble, according to reports in the Herald -- beaten down once at the front door of her apartment with a high-heeled shoe and then sucker punched in her right eye right in front of her two year old Terence Jr. Pinder also reportedly showed up at her apartment drunk, pounding on the door, demanding to know how she could do something like this to her.
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Pinder’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, has denied the charges all along – it’s all just baby’s mama drama, he’s told reporters time and time again, trumped up into hasty charges. Pinder has repented, working at a Liberty City church and promising folks around town that he’ll be back behind the dais in no time –ready to lift the city out of poverty and destitution.
The findings of the comission report:
• Pinder says that both of his copies of his 2004 campaign reports were destroyed in a storm. City Clerk Deborah Irby says she just plum lost his report – oops! Pinder came up with a “duplicate” report and gave it to Irby, compiled “to the best of [Pinder’s] recollection and the banking information he reviewed online.”
• Pinder didn’t return numerous, illegal eleventh-hour campaign contributions. Names and occupations are missing throughout. One contribution was made by the city’s trash contractor, Waste Management Inc.
• Pinder told investigators claimed that numerous petty cash withdrawals from his campaign fund were legit – paid to hire workers.
• In perhaps the most telling example of the way things work in Opa-locka, the investigator found that Pinder handed officer Cheryl Cason, of the Opa-locka Police department, $700 on election day to pass around to poll workers. Cason took the cash through the window of her patrol car while in uniform, she told the Committee in a sworn affadavit, and provided a list of the workers. This is totally illegal. Pinder denied giving Cason the cash. “When asked,” the report says. “[Pinder] stated that his campaign was not well organized.”
• A $550 expenditure made out to Earl Bethel (a dead junkie), was clarified. Pinder claimed that he made a mistake on that one. The money was distributed, he said, after his victory to random “people from the streets” who helped take down campaign signs. He couldn’t remember any of their names.
• A $1,300 check made out to “campaigne” (sic) was cashed by his girlfriend’s sister, Lakeisha London, on October 25, 2004. Pinder claims it was stolen while he went to the bathroom. Williams said he handed it to her blank.
Pinder has a little less than a month to contest the Election Comission’s charges – which are civil, not criminal, in nature. He can dispute the material facts, or not. It will only get better from here. --Calvin Godfrey