April 12, 2015

Out of prison, Hialeah Ponzi schemer dishes on loans from pols

via @jayhweaver

He’s nowhere near as notorious as Wall Street’s Bernie Madoff or Fort Lauderdale’s Scott Rothstein.

But as Ponzi schemers go, Luis Felipe Perez was still a very high roller, running a $40 million investment scam fueled by loans from Hialeah’s “shadow banking” industry and some of the city’s biggest power brokers. And while Madoff and Rothstein are destined to die behind bars, Perez now finds himself a free man.

“I lost 54 months of my life,” Perez told the Miami Herald in his first in-depth interview since being released from prison in December. “It’s something I will have to live with the rest of my life. But I think I deserve an opportunity to rebuild and move forward.”

Perez, known as “Felipito,” insisted that he aims to pay back his victims, who are mostly from Hialeah where he grew up but might now be considered persona non grata. One-time friends now consider him a “thief” and a “liar,” including two Hialeah mayors, Julio Robaina and Carlos Hernandez, who together had lent him almost $1 million but did not get back all of their money. Perez even broke ranks and testified against Robaina at a federal tax-evasion trial that ended with the ex-mayor’s acquittal.

More here.

April 08, 2015

Annette Taddeo for Congress fundraiser to feature Charlie Crist


Here's the invitation for Democrat Annette Taddeo's kickoff fundraiser Thursday with "special guest" Charlie Crist, as we reported earlier this week. She is challenging freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Among the hosts are Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Jean Monestime, a Democrat in a nonpartisan post. Note: We've removed the personal cell phone number and email address of a Taddeo staffer organizing the event as a courtesy.

Please Join Our Hosts

Maria & Luis Arguello | Ron Bilbao | Stephen Bittel | Henry Crespo | Juan Cuba
Marie & Dr. Kansky Delisma | Lourdes Diaz | Chelin & Alfredo Duran | Dr. Leonarda Duran 
Joe Falk | Chris Findlater | Ryan Forrest | Marlon Hill | Rene Infante | Rachel Johnson
Amb. Luis Lauredo | Steve Marino | Maria Molina | Hon. Jean Monestime
Marilyn & Mike Moskowitz | Elizabeth & Ralph Patino | Dr. Larry Pierre | Ben Pollara
Hon. Jeff Porter | Tomas Romero | Hon. Sandra Ruiz 
Gladys Rustan Hernando | Carlos Saladrigas
(Host Committee in Formation)

with Special Guests

Carole and the Hon. Charlie Crist

Thursday, April 9, 2015
6:30pm – 8:00pm

*Address available upon RSVP
Pinecrest, FL 33156

Please make checks payable to: “Taddeo for Congress”

Chair: $5,400
Co-chair: $2,700
Host: $1,000
Suggested Contribution: $100

Please RSVP at secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/atkickoff


Paid for by Taddeo for Congress

April 06, 2015

FL-26 fight begins: Republicans call Annette Taddeo 'obsessed' with running for office


It took less than 90 minutes after Annette Taddeo announced her candidacy for Congress for national Republicans to step in, marking the unofficial launch of what will be an intense race for one of the country's most competitive districts.

"Annette Taddeo is so desperate to run for office that she's now running in a district where she doesn't even live," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Pack said in a statement emailed to reporters. "This is a new level of desperation for Taddeo, who seemingly can't kick her obsession with running for office regardless of what or where it is."

Taddeo followed her announcement, delivered via a news release, with a fund-raising appeal to suporters, telling them of her plans to challenge Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and asking them for money. She freshened up her Twitter profile and launched a bare-bones website.

"My story is like so many of your stories," her pitch read. "You can bet I'll use that determination to stand up for all of us in Congress."

The pitch, it should be noted, says it was "Paid for and approved by Charlie Crist." Taddeo was Crist's running mate in last year's gubernatorial race, and he is scheduled to attend a fundraiser for her in Miami on Thursday. But it's unclear why her email would be approved by him (perhaps a clerical error?). We've asked for an explanation and will update this post once we receive a response.

UPDATE: Not a clerical error: It appears that Crist gave Taddeo the email list from last year's race for her to use in her new campaign. Taddeo's camp, probably on a lawyer's advice, decided to include a Crist disclaimer on the fund-raising pitch, though other lawyers suggest that approach is unusual. Either way, Taddeo will likely have to disclose the value of the list as an in-kind contribution to her federal campaign -- and it may be difficult to determine its value.

Taddeo pitch

April 05, 2015

Annette Taddeo says she'll challenge Carlos Curbelo, setting up another fight for Florida's 26th district


Barely three months into his congressional career, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has drawn a re-election challenger: Democrat Annette Taddeo, who plans to formally announce her candidacy Monday.

“This race is not about Carlos. This is about the people of Florida 26 that I strongly believe need a voice in Washington,” Taddeo told the Miami Herald on Sunday, referring to Curbelo’s congressional district. “I’m not aligned with any special interest, and I’m going to Washington to be the voice for the middle class, for the small-business owners, for the working moms.”

Taddeo, who turns 48 on Tuesday, most recently ran for office last year as Charlie Crist’s running mate in the Florida governor’s race. They lost.

But Taddeo — who had previously waged unsuccessful campaigns for Miami-Dade County Commission in 2010 and for Congress in 2008 — received statewide publicity, met a wide range of donors and gained valuable political experience.

In 2016, Taddeo would vie for the nation’s most competitive Hispanic-majority district against the freshman Curbelo in a presidential-election year, when more liberal-leaning voters tend to go to the polls. The swing 26th congressional district narrowly favors Democrats, who comprise 35 percent of registered voters, compared to 34 percent Republican and 30 percent without party affiliation.

Curbelo defeated Rep. Joe Garcia by 3 percentage points in GOP-dominated year. But the Crist-Taddeo ticket won the district by 5 points over Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. In 2012, Garcia won by nearly 11 points, and President Obama by 7 points.

More here.

April 02, 2015

White town council candidate assumes black Miami federal judge is housekeeper

via @rpicc002 @jayhweaver

Insulted after a white political candidate approached her assuming she worked as a housekeeper at the Bay Harbor Islands condominium complex, an African-American federal judge posted the exchange this week on her private Facebook page, calling out Bay Harbor Islands town council candidate Kenneth Eskin.

“So much for post racial America,” U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke wrote on her Facebook page following the encounter with Eskin in the parking lot of her condominium home, where she has lived for 20 years.

Cooke, through her clerk, declined comment to a Miami Herald reporter.

Reached by telephone, Eskin said he regretted his remarks and asked a Herald reporter for the judge’s contact information to personally apologize to her.

“I’m not going to deny it. It wasn’t malicious, I asked a question,” Eskin said. “If I offended her, I would apologize to her. I certainly meant nothing by it. There was nothing racially inspired.”

More here.

April 01, 2015

Key Biscayne residents raising money for Miami commission candidate


Key Biscayne residents can't vote in Miami city elections. But they can still influence politics in the city with their money.

And so as frustration builds over the city's plans to create a $16 million outdoor event space on Virginia Key along the only road into the tony island, some heavy hitters are throwing their weight behind an anti-establishment candidate running for Miami commission.

On Wednesday, in an email blast titled "Save Virginia Key," an April 8 Key Biscayne fundraiser for Miami candidate Grace Solares at the Grand Bay Club was announced. Hosting the event: developer and art collector Martin Margulies, Rickenbacker Marina operator Aabad Melwani, and Al Lindsay (husband of Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay), among others.

"While we do not vote in District 2, the residents of Key Biscayne are affected by the City of Miami development and use on Virginia Key," the invite states. "Ms. Solares has been a longtime advocate for good governance, accountability, and transparency in government. She believes in increasing public participation in government decision making."

As president of the Urban Environment League, Solares took issues with some of the city's plans to redevelop the Miami Marine Stadium site on Virginia Key when details first surfaced in November. The village has sued the city over plans to create an event space outside the stadium to host the Miami International Boat Show and perhaps other events, worrying that the facility will clog the Rickenbacker Causeway.

Solares is running for Miami's District 2 commission seat against a slew of candidates, including the wife of incumbent Marc Sarnoff.

Key Biscayne lawsuit vs. Miami threatens to entangle the county as well


Update: Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay said that despite statements from County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, the village is not moving to include Miami-Dade County in the village's lawsuit against the city of Miami. Lindsay said she'd not seen Suarez's letter, but appreciated his efforts  as a mediator with the city and village.

"We have not discussed that. We have not contemplated that," she said. "It’s something that he may think is an appropriate strategy or he may be concerned about but it’s not something we’ve contemplated or discussed at all. We do feel that our lawsuit is squarely with the city."

A lawsuit between the Village of Key Biscayne and the City of Miami over plans to renovate and redevelop the Miami Marine Stadium and surrounding land is now threatening to put the squeeze on Miami-Dade County.

On Tuesday, in a letter to Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo "Willy" Gort, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez said Key Biscayne village officials are asking county commissioners to choose sides in the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado is asking the county for an extension on a deadline to come up with a plan to use a $3 million grant the county gave the city five years ago to help renovate the historic but run-down stadium.

Key Biscayne village officials sued the city in February. They alleged that Miami's $16 million plan to create an outdoor exhibition space east of Marine Stadium would choke the only road in and out of Key Biscayne, and violate the city's zoning code and a county deed restriction on the property.

Late last month, following a fruitless mediation session, village officials voted to seek an injunction stopping the city from moving forward with construction of the event space, which must be completed by December in order to host the Miami International Boat Show. Suarez says the village council also asked Miami-Dade commissioners to "take a position" on the city's plans," and "are preparing to include the county in the pending litigation with the City of Miami." 

To avoid that, Suarez asked Gort to allow him to appear at Miami's April 9 commission meeting and hash out a series of concessions requested by Key Biscayne. Gort said Wednesday morning that he hadn't seen the letter, but wasn't inclined to agree to a public mediation.

"That's something we have to be careful about," he said.

In his letter to Gort, Suarez said he will support the city's request for a deadline extension. Otherwise, the city would have  to submit a plan to the county by Monday on how to use the money. Regalado says the city won't use the money to fund the creation of the outdoor event space.

March 31, 2015

Judge: Ex-Miami Lakes mayor can return to office

via @Paradise_Afshar

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has won his reinstatement lawsuit against the town and current Mayor Wayne Slaton, although the judge who ruled in his favor issued a 30-day stay to allow the town time to appeal.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely ruled Tuesday afternoon that Pizzi can return immediately to his duties as mayor, and receive back payments, allowances and benefits from Aug. 13, 2013 to the present. The mayor’s position earns $18,000 annually, but that doesn’t include the cost of the benefits, which Pizzi figures exceeds $40,000 a year when tallying salary and benefits.

“This a total and complete victory for democracy and the constitution and rule of law,” Pizzi said following the ruling. “The big winners are the people of Miami Lakes, who are getting their rightfully elected mayor back where he belongs, in town hall — where I should have never left.”

Pizzi has been fighting to return to the mayoral seat since being acquitted of federal bribery charges in August 2014.

More here.

Miami Commissioner Willy Gort draws a challenger in reelection campaign


Looks like Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo "Willy" Gort will have to campaign to keep his seat after all.

Gort, who is running for his second consecutive term representing Miami's District 1, stood unopposed until Monday, when Miguel Angel Gabela filed to challenge him. Gabela, formerly a member of Miami's Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board, briefly filed to run against Gort in 2011 but quickly withdrew.

Although Gort only just now drew a challenger, he hasn't rested on his laurels. The incumbent had raised $86,000 as of the last campaign report, filed March 10.

Hialeah mayor pleads 5th more than 30 times in ethics deposition, calling it a 'circus'

via @jayhweaver

Accused of lying to the public about his high-interest loans, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez told Miami-Dade County ethics officials in a recent deposition that their case against him was a “political witch hunt.”

Hernandez pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination more than 30 times as he was peppered with questions by a lawyer for the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. “I don’t want to be part of this circus,” the mayor responded repeatedly in his March 16 deposition.

The commission’s lawyer, Michael Murawski, grew so frustrated with the mayor that he urged a Miami-Dade circuit judge on Monday to hold Hernandez in “contempt” because he refused to answer questions about his series of exorbitant loans totaling $180,000 to a convicted Ponzi schemer.

Circuit Judge Bertila Soto stopped short of issuing a “show-cause” order requiring Hernandez to explain why he should not be held in contempt for repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment during his deposition. Soto said she understood the mayor’s “fear” that he could be caught in a “perjury” trap if he answered the questions, but also said the ethics commission had a right to hear his responses before he faces a civil ethics trial later this year.

More here.