April 28, 2016

Former Miami-Dade mayor appears in court after battery charge

AMA29 Alvarez news rk

via @DavidOvalle305

In a sight that would have been unthinkable five years ago, former Miami-Dade mayor and top cop Carlos Alvarez appeared in court Thursday shackled and dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, charged with violently grabbing his ex-girlfriend and spitting at her.

Alvarez, 63, made his first appearance in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. He will be released from jail later Thursday after posting a $1,500 bond for the misdemeanor battery charge. He must also stay away from firearms.

“I don’t own any guns,” the former Miami-Dade police director told the judge.

He was also ordered to stay away Evelyn Fernandez, his longtime companion with whom he has had a tumultuous relationship in recent years. His arrest Wednesday was a startling development for a former politician who has kept a largely low profile since he was booted from office in a stunning recall vote in 2011.

His defense lawyer, Douglas Hartman, told reporters that Alvarez will fight the allegations and — suggested that Fernandez is the true aggressor, showing up at his home repeatedly.

“He denies everything,” Hartman said.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Miami-Dade Democrats bring on a policy adviser

@PatriciaMazzei

The Miami-Dade Democratic Party has named a policy adviser to help candidates running for the Florida Legislature.

As senior policy adviser, a volunteer position, Artie Leichner "will use social and traditional media to enhance the name recognition of candidates and advise them on messaging," the party said in a statement Thursday. Leichner will focus on 2016 legislative races in south and west Miami-Dade.

Lichner has been a teacher, first vice president of the United Teachers of Dade and treasurer of the South Florida chapter of the AFL-CIO. He's president of a new Democratic club in South Dade.

April 27, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott praises environmental agency's handling of FPL's dirty cooling canals

Gov. Rick Scott seems satisfied with how state regulators have handled the Florida Power and Light’s troubled cooling canals at Turkey Point.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection cited Florida Power & Light for threatening nearby drinking water supplies and ordered the utility to come up with a plan to stop the spread of an underground plume of saltwater.

Critics say there has been evidence for years that the cooling canal system was harming water beyond the nuclear power plant.

After DEP signed off on a December 2014 uprating project that expanded power output from the plant’s twin reactors, multiple plaintiffs including cities sued, saying state regulators did too little to address a growing underground plume that has pushed saltwater inland about four miles. An administrative judge in February agreed, faulting DEP for not citing the agency for violations and ordering state officials to redo the plan.

Here is a partial transcript of Scott’s replies after an event about human trafficking in Miami Wednesday morning:

Q: “Should DEP have acted earlier on the cooling canals and do you have an action plan if there is contaminated water as a result of the cooling canals?”

A: “We have received that. We are reviewing that right now.”

Q: "On the cooling canals what do you mean you received that and reviewing that? What did you receive?”

A: “There was a court decision so my office is reviewing that right now.”

Q: “Do you have an action plan if we have contaminated water?”

A: “My office is reviewing it.”

Q: “Are you satisfied with the pace that DEP has addressed issue of cooling canals?”

A: “I think they are working hard.”

Q: “So you are satisfied even though some critics brought this up first in December 2014 that there was going to be contamination?”

A: “I think between water management districts, DEP, everybody is working very hard to solve issues like this.”

April 25, 2016

Mojitos and Cuban food: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen plans Miami-themed fundraiser in D.C.

Unnamed@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is bringing a little touch of Miami to Washington D.C. for her next fundraiser.

Next month, her re-election campaign will hold a reception branded as "Moon Over Miami." Mojitos and Cuban food are promised.

The event will take place at the Republican's Southeast D.C. townhouse May 25. A $500 contribution is suggested from individual donors, and $1,000 from political action committees.

April 23, 2016

FBI tapes provide evidence of corruption in Opa-locka: 'This city is run like the mob'

By Michael Sallah and @jayhweaver

Just after sunset, Commissioner Luis Santiago pulled up to the gates of the sprawling storage lot in Opa-locka and motioned for Frank Zambrana to step inside the black, city-leased Ford Expedition.

The two had met privately before, but this time it was different.

With a handgun on the console, Santiago reached over to his passenger and frisked him for any recording devices.

“He told me that he was not going to take any chances,” Zambrana said.

With no one else in sight, Zambrana said he took out $500, counted it, then passed it to the 55-year-old politician in yet another secret payment to ensure Zambrana would get a license to open his heavy equipment business in 2013.

It wasn’t the last payment he would have to make for a license that cost just $150.

In the past three years, the father of five paid tens of thousands of dollars to Santiago and a host of other prominent city officials in what exposed an organized network that turned the levers of government into a cash generator for themselves and others, the Miami Herald has learned.

After months of making under-the-table payments for a business license, Zambrana turned to the FBI.

In one of the most compelling public corruption cases in Miami-Dade in years, Zambrana taped secret meetings while he paid cash bribes to public officials in City Hall, at remote parking lots and even in a popular night spot, according to confidential sources.

Zambrana is among the lead figures in a grand jury investigation that could result in the indictment of at least a dozen people, including Santiago and City Manager David Chiverton, on racketeering charges, according to sources who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity.

“I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad,” said Steven Barrett, a former vice mayor who once sued the city over questionable billing practices for water and sewer services. “This city is run like the mob.”

More here.

April 21, 2016

Florida governor says he's unfamiliar with FPL power lines ruling

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Gov. Rick Scott got a question in Hollywood on Thursday about Wednesday's momentous ruling against Florida Power & Light over its Miami power lines project.

"I haven't seen it," the governor said.

An appeals court found Scott and the Florida Cabinet failed to consider the city of Miami's development regulations in backing FPL's plan.

Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine hasn't ruled out bid for governor

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Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says he is focused on his city position but hasn't ruled out running as a Democrat for governor in 2018.

"I haven't ruled out becoming president of a cruise line either," he quipped in an interview with the Miami Herald today.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, announced this morning that she won't seek re-election and is seriously considering running for governor. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term limited.

Levine said he hasn't talked to Graham or any of the other potential Democratic candidates including state Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate or Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Levine, a millionaire businessman who was elected to his second two-year term in Miami Beach, has raised his political profile in recent months. He's flown to primary states and appeared on cable news shows to stump for Hilary Clinton, and he recently traveled to Cuba with a group of university students -- a trip that attracted controversy in South Florida after he said he was open to hosting a Cuban consulate in the Beach. And he is one of the more visible politicians speaking out about the need to tackle climate change -- a serious and expensive problem for his coastal community.

Levine's mayoral term expires in 2017. He hasn't yet said whether he will run for re-election as mayor.

"I haven't ruled that out," he said.

-- With Joey Flechas

Marco Rubio celebrates brother's induction into Miami High's hall of fame

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Senior High School welcomed new members to its hall of fame last weekend -- including one Mario Rubio, a football standout and the older brother of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

The younger Rubio attended the ceremony Saturday. He wore a name tag that read, "Marco." His older brother, a Vietnam vet who lives in Jacksonville, joined Rubio on the presidential campaign trail beginning late last year.

Here are some snapshots of the night, by photographer Matias J. Ocner:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio celebrates brother's induction into Miami High's hall of fame" »

April 20, 2016

A GOP battle royale in South Dade: Lynda Bell vs. David Rivera

@PatriciaMazzei

Setting up a South Florida Republican battle royale, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell plans to run for a Florida House of Representatives seat -- against former U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

Bell, who announced her candidacy late Tuesday at a meeting of the Old Cutler Republican Women's Club, told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that she looked at two open House seats in South Dade before settling on District 118, which includes neighborhoods she represented in her four-year term on the commission

"I'm not here to beat up on David Rivera, but I know I served 10 years in office, and I feel like I have a lot to offer," said Bell, who previously served as Homestead mayor. "I've accomplished very, very much."

Bell doesn't live in the district, which extends from West Miami-Dade to Richmond Heights, but said she'd move there by Election Day, as required by law. She thought about running in neighboring District 114 -- also not her home district -- but said she didn't want to challenge one of the Republicans already running, John Couriel, whom she called "a really great guy."

Neither of her choices was ideal: Both districts are heavily Hispanic, especially among likely Republican primary voters. Bell's long-shot bid might be based on the idea that other Hispanic Republicans could split the vote to her benefit, given her name recognition, but winning probably won't be easy.

More here.

April 19, 2016

Florida Supreme Court suspends Miami-Dade judge who appeared drunk on bench

via @ChuckRabin

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a Miami-Dade judge who had been removed from the bench three weeks ago after appearing drunk on the bench — an incident that came on the heels of an expletive-laced outburst at a restaurant.

In a one-paragraph statement, the state high court said County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has until May 9 to respond to the decision and argue her case against the ruling. She will continue to be paid during the suspension.

Chief Judge Bertila Soto pulled Schwartz from the bench of her Miami-Dade courtroom on March 28 after Schwartz appeared to be drunk. She has been on paid medical leave since.

Ten days prior to that incident, the judge created a ruckus at a Coconut Grove restaurant.Schwartz was at the Ergon Greek Deli and Cuisine on Grand Avenue on March 18 when she got upset at a waiter and berated him for refusing to serve her more alcohol. State investigators who recommended the suspension to the Supreme Court said Schwartz yelled at the waiter, “you’re a f---ing idiot, you don’t know who I am.”

Police were called. When they showed up, the judge called them “pigs,” an investigation by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission claimed. Investigators also said Schwartz was spilling wine and slurring. The commission did its own investigation and interviewed the officer who confronted Schwartz.

More here.