The Go-to Guy for the Gun-Shy

The Go-to Guy for the Gun-Shy
Filed under: Flotsam

The bulletproof window near the entrance of the Opa-locka Police station features what looks like a poster for a shitty rap concert: Ten hundred-dollar bills fan out to form a backdrop for a thousand-dollar bill, Grover Cleveland's green mug obscured behind a set of crimson block letters: HOW TO GET A STACK. Below the ad, a small box contains a wad of matching cardboard flyers.

On the backs of the flyers, in English and Kreyol (no Spanish), it reads "Get $1000 cash reward for your information that leads to a person with an illegal gun.

"NO: Name, ID, Questions," it adds.

The flyers don't mention the police or any governing body. But Miami-Dade County is pushing them like spinach at a fat camp. Every time an inmate departs the county jail, upon collecting his property, he receives a flyer. It's even sized like a standard U.S. bill, so it can be folded into a wallet.

The design was not easily wrought. When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez announced the Gun Bounty program this past January, Maj. James DiBernardo, head of the county's public affairs department, was put on the case. He looked at similar programs in Pittsburgh and Orlando. But he didn't like their ads.

"These other programs were appealing to Capitol Hill types," said DiBernardo. "We needed to advertise to people who knew where the guns were."

So DiBernardo spent two months conducting criminal focus groups at various correctional facilities. "Did you know what a stack is?" he asked New Times. "Cause I'm 32 years a policeman, and I didn't know."

A stack, he discovered, is a thousand dollars. Inmates suggested the design and even the color of the letters. They told him not to advertise the number as 305-471-TIPS. "They said that TIPS sounded like snitching and all that," DiBernardo said with a chuckle.

Thus the number reads 305-471-8477. There is no indication that someone will answer the phone with a chiming "Crime Stoppers!"

When someone calls in with a tip about someone packing illicit heat (stolen firearm or one with its serial number filed off), Miami-Dade Police dispatch the information as an in-progress call. If an arrest is made, a reward is deposited into a random bank account, and the stool pigeon shows up with a code to pick up the cash.

In the month since the Gun Bounty program was launched, three people have received stacks, according to the Miami-Dade Police Department. Two more warrants have been drafted based on illegal gun tips; those stacks are still pending an arrest. -- Calvin Godfrey

Wackenhut Taps Meek as Hired Gun
Filed under: News

Former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek is not letting retirement slow her down, especially when it comes to protecting the interests of a big-name client. On May 22, the Wackenhut Corporation -- under criminal investigation for allegedly pilfering tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money from Miami-Dade County -- enlisted Meek, the first African-American from Florida elected to Congress since Reconstruction, to help the private security conglomerate hold on to its county contracts.

Meek, who left Congress in 2002 so her son Kendrick could assume her throne, did not return phone calls seeking comment. In the past, she has declined to talk about her lobbying clients, who have included homebuilder Lennar Homes, the Limestone Product Association, as well as Miami-Dade County. According to county records, Wackenhut has a history with the Meeks. The company hired Kendrick as a lobbyist in 1998, the year it won a multi-year contract to patrol Metrorail and Metromover. Wackenhut also retained the legal services of his wife, Leslie, in 2004.

"Wackenhut sought me to speak on their behalf with some of the county commissioners," Carrie says, adding she is aware of the company's troubles.

This past March, County Manager George Burgess declined to award a $4.9 million contract to Wackenhut. His reason: The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, with assistance from the county inspector general, is investigating Wackenhut for possible grand theft. Recently NBC 6 reported that a preliminary county audit indicates Wackenhut overbilled Miami-Dade at least $12.1 million since 1998 to provide security guards at Metrorail stations and Metromover platforms, including $1.5 million in man-hours never paid to 34 employees. The company's deal to patrol the Juvenile Assessment Center is also under scrutiny by internal auditors and law enforcement. Wackenhut officials have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. -- Francisco Alvarado

Buyer Beware

Filed under: News

Last month the Chicago Tribune reported that Windy City developer John Thomas had been acting as an undercover informant for the federal government in its investigation of fraud in the financing of big-time commercial real estate deals. Thomas's lawyer told the Tribune he is no longer working as a mole. Thomas was convicted of felony fraud in 2004 after pleading guilty to charges that included credit card theft and selling property he didn't own (he was also doing business under the name Bernard Barton Jr.). Since that debacle, operating under a new corporate name -- Morgan Street Properties, LLC -- Thomas and partner Louis Giordano have helped broker big-deal sales of office buildings in downtown Chicago. Currently Thomas is being sued by former partner Alfred Koplin, who alleges the developer bought property in Florida with money he had borrowed to buy a building in Chicago.

New Times recently received a tip that Thomas has been hanging out in Miami. On its Website, Morgan Street Properties lists an office building at 200 SE First St. as one of its "current projects." Exactly what "current project" means -- is the building for sale? -- is unclear.

A call to Morgan Street Properties, based in Chicago, was redirected to Mike Banas, of Chicago-based Ashton Partners, a "strategic advisory firm specializing in investor relations and corporate communications," according to its Website. Banas advised New Times to reinquire with Morgan Street Properties. A receptionist at the latter put New Times on hold for a few minutes and came back saying, "All I can tell you is to try Mike Banas again." Banas did not return a second call. -- Isaiah Thompson

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.
Calvin Godfrey
Isaiah Thompson