April 01, 2016

Mail fraud in South Florida Senate race? Andrew Korge thinks so — and accuses Anitere Flores

@ByKristenMClark

A Democrat running for a state Senate seat in South Florida alleges someone has -- perhaps illegally -- sent out fraudulent campaign letters to his donors, and Andrew Korge believes his Republican opponent, current state Sen. Anitere Flores, or her supporters are responsible.

Flores, R-Miami, denies the allegations, but Korge said "whether it’s her or her people, it’s irrelevant to me."

Korge and Flores are running for a hotly contested Senate seat that spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys.

Thanks to the recent redistricting of the state's 40 Senate seats, several Senate candidates have had to re-file their campaigns with the Florida Department of State to run for the correct newly renumbered district.

As part of that switch, candidates are required to notify their past donors and give them the opportunity to get a refund, because the money won't be used for the race it was intended for.

Korge said his campaign sent out such letters after he switched to run against Flores for the new District 39 seat, but he became alarmed when he started to receive response forms that were vastly different than the ones he sent out.

The suspicious letters -- copies of which Korge provided to the Herald/Times -- purport to be from Korge's campaign and are vaguely worded to suggest that Korge isn't running for Senate anymore at all.

They include no identifying marks nor a campaign disclaimer, so it's not possible to know from where they originated or who is responsible for sending them.

But Korge alleges it was Flores or her political backers.

"I think we all know who did this. I only have one opponent here. This is the type of corruption that people are sick of and a big part of what we’re running for," Korge said. "Do I have definitive proof that she did it? No, but I have common sense."

Flores told a Herald/Times reporter "no way, no how" was she involved with sending out the suspicious letters.

"Why in the universe would I spend any resources on doing something that you just told me he’s legally required to do?" she said.

Continue reading "Mail fraud in South Florida Senate race? Andrew Korge thinks so — and accuses Anitere Flores" »

March 29, 2016

Miami Beach state rep hosts fundraiser for congressional candidate

@PatriciaMazzei

A gaggle of Miami Beach Democrats plan a fundraiser for Annette Taddeo, who is running to try to challenge Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo. The "special guest" at the event is state Rep. David Richardson.

Here's the invitation:

Continue reading "Miami Beach state rep hosts fundraiser for congressional candidate" »

Looking for something to do in Miami? How about a political fundraiser?

@PatriciaMazzei

Good-bye, spring break. Farewell, Florida's presidential primary. See you soon, legislative session. Now that all that has been taken care of, it's time for Florida House and Senate candidates to begin campaigning in earnest.

Three fundraisers are scheduled to take place in Miami between Tuesday and Wednesday nights alone, and that's just for Republican candidates. (A fourth event is planned in Tallahassee.) Contenders have struggled to get political donors' attention, what with two Miami Republicans running for president until recently, an open U.S. Senate seat and a slew of congressional contests.

Here are invitations to the four GOP events:

Continue reading "Looking for something to do in Miami? How about a political fundraiser?" »

Meet the Miami lawyer defending Donald Trump's campaign manager

MCC24 Marono News rk

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami defense attorney Kendall Coffey knows a thing or two about high-profile cases. There was the presidential recount. The voter fraud in the 1997 Miami mayor's race. Elián González. Scott Rothstein.

Now add a new one to the list: Donald Trump.

Proving once again that almost all national news stories have a Miami connection, Coffey has been named one of two defense attorneys representing Trump's campaign manager. Corey Lewandowski was charged Tuesday with simple battery for allegedly grabbing a female reporter by the arm at Trump National Golf Club, a Trump property in Jupiter. The lead attorney is Scott N. Richardson of West Palm Beach.

A little background on the case:

Security footage appears to show Lewandowski yanking Michelle Fields, who at the time worked for the conservative Breitbart News. She has since resigned.

A little background on the case:

Security footage appears to show Lewandowski yanking Michelle Fields, who at the time worked for the conservative Breitbart News. She has since resigned.

Lewandowski, who had insisted he "never touched" her, will plea not guilty, Trump's campaign said in a statement, calling him "absolutely innocent." "He is completely confident that he will be exonerated," spokeswoman Hope Hicks wrote.

Coffey is a prominent lawyer and former federal prosecutor who, as national political reporters discovered Tuesday afternoon, resigned from his U.S. attorney gig in 1996, a few months after being accused of biting a stripper on the arm.

He had lost a big drug case (a federal jury surprisingly acquitted Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta of smuggling 75 tons of cocaine). One night, he headed to the Lipstik Adult Entertainment Club in Kendall to soften the blow. He ordered a $900 champagne bottle, paid $200 for a private dance and then allegedly bit the dancer. He was ejected from the club.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

March 28, 2016

Patrick Murphy brings out big gun to campaign in Miami: Joe Biden

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@PatriciaMazzei

Usually, U.S. Senate candidates wait until closer to Election Day to call in political reinforcements.

But U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter had one of the Democratic Party's biggest guns in town Monday for a fundraiser: Vice President Joe Biden. So Murphy asked Biden to pull double duty and join him after the fundraiser at a stop at Jackson Soul Food, a culinary institution in Miami's Overtown neighborhood.

Lesson one for Murphy: No politician works a room quite like Biden.

He scooped up a little boy, who squealed with delight. He kissed a baby. He posed for photographs. At one point, Murphy offered to take a photo of the VP and a diner himself, before a Biden staffer jumped in to ensure Murphy was in front of the screen, not behind it.

"Say hello to Patrick," Biden said, trying -- unsuccessfully -- to keep the focus on Murphy. "He's a great congressman, and he's going to be a great senator." Later, he told another table, "He's my guy. And you know where my heart is." Before anyone could make a crack about Murphy's young age -- he's 32-- Biden mentioned he was first elected to the Senate when he was 29. "He's old!"

Standing before a small scrum of reporters, Biden spoke about the importance of Florida's swing Senate seat -- and the state's role in the November presidential election.

Continue reading "Patrick Murphy brings out big gun to campaign in Miami: Joe Biden" »

Feds target Miami-Dade city in major corruption investigation

via @jayhweaver, Michael Sallah and @katielepri

When the builder of a community center desperately needed to get paid nearly $1 million from Opa-locka, he received a call from the city’s most influential power broker.

Dante Starks said he could ensure the contractor would collect the money he was owed and even pick up more government work.

When the CEO of a waste-hauling company needed someone with strong connections to Opa-locka leaders, he turned to Starks to ensure the firm would keep its multimillion-dollar contract with the city for years.

In a community where money begets political favors at City Hall, Starks has known few equals in pulling the levers of government.

The 53-year-old lobbyist has helped steer millions of dollars in public works projects to clients, shut down police investigations and pushed successfully for the firing of a city manager — all after his own arrest on public bribery charges nearly a decade ago.

“Dante is the unofficial mayor of Opa-locka,” former Vice Mayor Steven Barrett said. “He has more power than [Mayor] Myra Taylor. He controls every department.”

Now, Starks is at the center of a federal investigation that threatens to topple him and a cadre of elected leaders in the most comprehensive corruption probe in Miami-Dade in decades.

The Miami Herald has learned that a federal criminal grand jury has issued 18 subpoenas to current and former City Hall employees — including a former city manager and past finance director — in a kickback investigation targeting Starks and nearly every public works project in Opa-locka in the past decade.

More here.

March 25, 2016

Spring Break in Havana for Miami's business elite

Obama US Cuba(3)

@PatriciaMazzei

HAVANA -- Mojitos, strawberry daiquiris and hand towels awaited the well-heeled guests that strolled into the Saratoga Hotel. The lobby felt like the airy foyer of a Havana country clubhouse of old — right down to its members:

Almost all hailed from Miami.

Hugs and backslaps, handshakes and introductions. Half the men sported blue blazers and khakis; the other unwrapped matching guayaberas in picture-perfect baby blues and pale pinks.

If you panned across the room at any given moment this week, you had to blink twice to make sure you weren’t in a hotel in Brickell. There was developer and tech entrepreneur Manny Medina. And healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez. And condo king Jorge Pérez. Attorneys Pedro Freyre and Ralph Patino. Big Sugar’s Andres Fanjul. Businessman Carlos Saladrigas. Former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Paul Cejas helping himself to brunch. Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez hopping on an elevator with businessmen Enrique Sosa and Ariel Pereda.

“This is literally a 45-minute flight away,” said Joe Arriola, the Miami-Dade County Public Health Trust chairman, who was also at the Saratoga. He pointed to communist regimes in faraway China and Vietnam. In Cuba, he maintained, “Things are going to change so much faster.”

Miami’s Cuban-American business elite spent spring break in Havana, chasing President Barack Obama. Some took part in official White House events. Others lingered in the periphery, witnessing history — and trying to figure out how to prod it along with the power of their wallets.

Don’t call it a vacation.

“I’m going to work. I’m not going there to play,” Fernandez, who gave some of the others a lift to Havana aboard his private plane, said the day he departed Miami. “I don’t drink, and I’m a lousy dancer, so I’m not going there to play.”

More here.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

March 24, 2016

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine would welcome the Cuban consulate

MBCubameeting

Gustavo Machín, deputy director of North American affairs (left) meets with Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, right, at the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry on Wednesday.


Miami refuses to welcome a Cuban consulate into its city because its mayor calls it a political flashpoint and a security risk. Cuba and the U.S. hesitate to open one in Tampa because it’s too far away from most people who would need consular services.

A possible solution to the diplomatic stalemate: Bring the consulate to Miami Beach.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola told the Cuban government in a private meeting Wednesday in Havana that, unlike their Miami counterparts, they’d welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

“It belongs in Miami-Dade County,” Arriola told the Miami Herald. “It needs to go where they’re going to serve the greatest number of its people. Miami-Dade has by far the greatest number of Cubans in the country. The demand is going to be very high.”

Keep reading Patricia Mazzei's story here.



March 23, 2016

National liberal group targets Anitere Flores as 'queen of corruption' in Florida

Capture

@ByKristenMClark

A national Democratic advocacy group has proclaimed Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores to be "The Queen of Corruption" in Florida because of her past work with the unaccredited Doral College in Miami-Dade County.

In an online video this week -- that declares her "Florida's most corrupt politician" -- Occupy Democrats takes Flores to task for her former job as president of the college and for supporting legislation that benefited Florida's charter school industry.

The group alleges she "takes tax dollars meant for education and pockets them" for her own enrichment and those of her "friends."

Doral College is run by Academica, a for-profit company that's believed to be Florida's largest charter school operator and that a few Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers have connections to. Flores worked as president of Doral College from its inception in 2011 until July 2015.

Occupy Democrats -- which bills itself as a "counterbalance" to the conservative tea party movement -- posted its video Monday on Facebook, sharing it with nearly 2.6 million fans on the site. As of noon today, the video had 250,000 views and counting. It's also been shared more than 7,500 times.

Flores said Occupy Democrats was lobbing "recycled and baseless attacks."

 

Meet Senator Anitere Flores, a Florida politician who's enriched herself with state funds that were supposed to go...

Posted by Occupy Democrats on Monday, March 21, 2016

 

"Doral College is an independent non-profit college that I did help establish with the mission of offering college access to low-income students at no cost to them or their families," Flores said in a text message.

"Doral College is regulated by the state and completed a rigorous process to receive a Florida license" and is pursuing accreditation, which takes several years, Flores said. "Every institution of higher education starts off without being accredited." 

The video inaccurately claims that Flores is "still employed" by "Doral College's parent company," but Flores has never worked for Academica. Since leaving Doral College last summer, she now works as development director for The A.C.E. Foundation, a non-profit that supports charter schools that serve at-risk students.

It's unclear why the national political group chose to target Flores specifically -- the group could not be immediately reached for comment -- but it's likely their reasoning has to do with Flores being potentially vulnerable in her bid for re-election in November.

Democrats are looking to pick up more seats in the state Senate under newly redrawn district maps. Flores faces Democrat Andrew Korge -- the son of prominent Hillary Clinton donor Chris Korge -- in what's expected to be a competitive contest for the new District 39 seat, which leans Hispanic and Democratic. (Independent Sheila Lucas George has also filed in the race.)

Korge and Flores both plan to move into the district, which spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys. (Flores and Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard worked out a deal where Flores would move to avoid facing Bullard in the new District 40, where both now live.)

Flores isn't the only Florida lawmaker with ties to the charter school industry -- or specifically Doral College and Academica -- but unlike some of the others, she faces a tough contest in November.

State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is the current chief operating officer and former dean of Doral College. He is seeking re-election to the House in what's expected to be a non-competitive race.

Meanwhile, the sister and brother-in-law of outgoing state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, are executives at Academica. Fresen is a land consultant for a firm that specializes in building charter schools, many for Academica. He faces term limits and won't be on the November ballot.

March 15, 2016

Miami Beach mayor to travel to Cuba next week

Levine 1

@PatriciaMazzei

In a historic visit, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine plans to travel to Cuba in his official capacity next week, becoming the first head of a Miami-Dade County city to go to the island since the 1959 revolution.

Levine will fly to Cuba to help lead a graduate seminar for Tufts University, which he said asked him to join about a dozen students of international affairs. The dates, set some time ago, happened to coincide with President Barack Obama’s trip to the island, the first time a U.S. president will step on Cuban soil in nearly 90 years.

“I think I’m the first mayor from Miami-Dade County to go,” Levine told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, in a boast that might have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. “I believe in the Cuban people in Cuba as well as the Cuban people in Miami. And I believe that we need to engage people in Cuba, and we need to do it through all types of interaction, and we need to give them hope. We need to give them aspiration.

“Obviously, government-to-government it’s been very challenging over the past 60 years, but I think if you empower the people, the people will be able to bring about the changes that they would like to see, whether it’s human rights and, of course, all types of freedoms.”

Part of what Levine wants to find out is how Havana might shape up as a tourism destination in competition with Miami Beach.

“Being a proactive mayor doesn’t mean putting your head in the sand and thinking, somehow, that this previous tourist destination of Cuba is not going to somehow come alive again,” he said. “It’s incumbent on someone like myself, as a mayor, to go down there to engage, and to understand what we may be in store for in the future as it pertains to our core industry.”

More here.