Stealth Indictment

Was Miami City Commissioner Art Teele charged with wire fraud last week? Only a few prosecutors know for sure, but there are strong indications that Teele, along with former seaport director Carmen Lunetta and California financier Calvin Grigsby, was secretly indicted on charges stemming from an $85,000 loan that Teele received five years ago.

On May 11 -- the day before the statute of limitations on the purported crime would have run out -- a federal grand jury in Miami returned a sealed indictment, case number 98-0353. The names of the defendants and the specific charges were shielded from public view at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Not even the defendants in the case know that they were charged.

One of the few facts that are publicly available from the sealed file is the prosecutor's name: Assistant United States Attorney Alex Angueira. Angueira is working exclusively on the probe into seaport finances as well as Teele's loan, sources said.

A week before the indictment, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a waiver of the statute of limitations with attorneys for Teele, Grigsby, and Lunetta. According to sources familiar with those negotiations, prosecutors told the attorneys they could postpone an indictment only if all three clients agreed to sign waivers. Grigsby and Lunetta agreed, the sources say, but Teele refused even to discuss the matter.

Teele's attorney, David Garvin, acknowledges there is "a strong possibility" that his client was charged last week. By sealing the case, Garvin notes, prosecutors will have more time to gather evidence against Teele. "Art Teele wants a speedy trial, which is his right," Garvin says. "He wants to prove he did nothing wrong. And if the government is using a sealed indictment to avoid giving him a speedy trial, that is unfair." In federal court a defendant has a right to trial within 70 days of arraignment. Under a sealed indictment, the clock starts ticking only after the indictment is unsealed.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment. Attorneys for Grigsby and Lunetta could not be reached immediately for comment. In the past they have denied their clients did anything wrong.

The most likely charges facing Teele, Grigsby, and Lunetta are wire fraud and theft of government funds. Investigators believe that in 1993 Teele, who at the time was county commission chairman, asked Lunetta for a loan. As a result, Lunetta urged Grigsby, whose company operated the seaport's giant gantry cranes, to wire $85,000 of seaport money to a law firm in Puerto Rico, which in turn sent the funds to Teele in Miami. Teele acknowledges the loan but claims he thought the money came from a source other than Grigsby.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede