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Judge: Conviction must remain on record of Miami pastor who stole money

@DavidOvalle305

Miami Rev. Gaston Smith, the prominent Liberty City pastor who looted public grant money, is again a convicted felon.

A Miami-Dade judge on Tuesday reversed another judge's decision to grant Smith a "withhold of adjudication," which means no conviction shows on his criminal history.

Jurors in 2010 convicted Smith, of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, of stealing county money given to a nonprofit he founded at the behest of one-time Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. Smith got probation.

Spence-Jones eventually beat a criminal case relating to the pool of county grant money.

Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch last year granted Smith the "withhold."  Prosecutors this year objected. Hirsch recused himself after the state pointed out he had earlier represented former County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, a witness in the case.

The new judge, Bronwyn Miller, on Tuesday praised Smith's rehabilitation efforts, but said "the adjudication must stand."

The reason: the original trial judge, Betty Butchko, had said she would consider granting the withhold if Smith completed his probation. But because an appeal was technically pending, the judge did not have the legal jurisdiction to do so, Miller ruled.

His attorney, Larry Handfield, one of two lawyers who represented him at trial, says he will appeal.

--DAVID OVALLE

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