Politics

Thanks to Jorge Gonzalez, Miami Beach Is Now Dade's Most Corrupt Town

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Yet around the same time that Gonzalez enjoyed his massive Loews party, problems began cropping up.

In March 2010, Miami New Times published an investigation into the Beach police. The article revealed that 54 percent of the force made at least six figures -- with one sergeant raking in nearly $230,000 one year. Worse, many of the top earners had terrible records of theft, fraud, racial discrimination, and gay harassment.

In August of that year, without consulting the commission, Gonzalez hired Cynthia Curry -- an aide to then-County Manager George Burgess -- to run the Building Department. But then the Miami Herald ran a front-page exposé that reported Curry had once admitted to double-billing the county for more than $154,000.

Commissioners were apoplectic. In November, for the first time in Gonzalez's term, they pushed back, refusing to confirm Curry. "I felt slighted," Commissioner Michael Gongora told the Herald.

Gonzalez explained away the mistake, claiming he hadn't known about the double-billing because Curry had never been charged with a crime. But it was a massive miscalculation. It wouldn't be the last.

Six months later, on May 30, 2011, during the mostly African-American festivites of Memorial Day weekend, officers fired more than 100 rounds at a visitor, killing him and wounding several innocent bystanders. National media descended, accusing the force of targeting blacks.

Just a month later, on July 3, two rogue cops went drinking on the job at the Clevelander Hotel. One of them, Derick Kuilan, took a young woman on a drunken joyride on his ATV, accidentally running over -- and nearly killing -- a woman on the beach. The horrifying incident exposed widespread management problems and led to the suspension of their supervisors for faking hours and failing to oversee underlings. Police Chief Carlos Noriega retired amid the chaos.

As the police force disintegrated, Gonzalez's troubles mounted. Soon, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office opened a criminal probe into allegations that Gonzalez and his top deputy, Hilda Fernandez, had withheld a $15 million grant to the New World Symphony until the organization agreed to provide loads of free tickets. In October, prosecutors declined to charge the pair. But the county changed its ethics guidelines over the flap.

The past three months have been perhaps the worst yet for the manager. Police woes continue under the new police chief, Ray Martinez. In March, two officers were suspended, one for allegedly drinking in a squad car and another after video emerged of a police cruiser rocketing past shocked tourists in the sand at Lummus Park. (It didn't help that the same cop, Eric Dominguez, had once nearly killed four motorcyclists in another speeding incident.)

On March 30, Gonzalez's procurement chief, Gus Lopez, abruptly resigned. Police raided his office and home over his ties to Walter Garcia, a developer who was sentenced to four years in federal prison in 1997 after pleading guilty to conspiring to distribute marijuana. Lopez, detectives say, tipped Garcia off to inside information on bids to redevelop the Beach's convention center and, according to emails filed in court, worked with the developer to fraudulently procure a luxury car for his wife.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink