May 04, 2016

The Miami-Dade voter-fraud case that went nowhere

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It seemed like the rare, slam-dunk case of voter fraud.

Two men stood accused of unlawfully handling four other people’s mail-in ballots in the 2013 Homestead mayoral election, filling at least one of them for precisely the candidates the voter didn’t want to vote for. Miami-Dade County investigators had a palm print and fingerprints, phone records, and suspicious stories from the defendants.

What they didn’t count on: lack of cooperation from the voters who were victims of the purported fraud — even though the voters themselves were the ones who initially alerted authorities they had been duped.

At the first trial, the witnesses changed their original testimony. At the second, one of the witnesses testified she didn’t remember the day the incident took place altogether.

And so, James Brady and Samuel Jean, the two campaign workers charged with voter fraud in 2014, didn’t go to jail. Brady, 33, of Florida City, wasn’t convicted: Prosecutors dropped the third-degree felony and misdemeanor charges against him in February after one of the key witnesses, voter Betty Brockington, said at his trial that “she did not remember what had happened on the day in question,” according to a Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office memo closing the investigation.

“I’m glad it’s over,” said Brady, who says he’s been focused on ministry, youth coaching and his family. “I’m not mad at anyone. I think the state did their job. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long. When you have something over your head like that, it’s kind of hard to focus.”

More here.

May 03, 2016

Florida Legislature: Cities can't ban Styrofoam. Coral Gables: Yes, we can

via @LDixon_3

Coral Gables has taken several steps to become a sustainable city in the past year by encouraging and mandating green building standards, easing the process to obtain solar panels, and taking steps to ban the use of polystyrene products in the city.

That last effort has become a complicated move for the city in the past few months as the Florida Legislature passed a bill in February preventing local municipalities from banning the use of Styrofoam containers or other products. Cities that approved their bans before Jan. 1 were allowed to keep their laws in place, but others — like Coral Gables — were forced to reverse their decisions.

The Gables commission has since taken steps to keep the city ban including approving an ordinance that makes their ban effective as of December 2015, when the commission gave initial approval to the ban, and backing up their decision to keep the ban by citing the Miami-Dade home rule charter.

City Attorney Craig Leen said Coral Gables may face a legal challenge if it goes forward with enforcement and he argued that the home-rule charter should protect the city.

“The Legislature can’t come here and legislate in a way that harms the city in the eyes of the city commission,” Leen said.

More here.

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is in Cuba, and a Miami congresswoman is not happy about it

Cuba Chanel


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen knows a thing or two about how to troll on Twitter.

Her account, @RosLehtinen, has spent the past couple of weeks periodically posting about French fashion house Chanel, which plans to hold a runway show Tuesday night in Havana.

Ros-Lehtinen's particular target: designer Karl Lagerfeld, the German haute couture powerhouse heading Chanel's line, "inspired" by Cuba. The congresswoman used the opportunity to highlight repression against Cuba's Ladies in White dissidents.

A sample of her tweets:

Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal opponent of President Obama's reestablished diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. That puts her at odds with Miami Cuban-American superstar musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan, who told New York Magazine they back the new policy and are happy to see Chanel on the island.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

Poll: Donald Trump would drive Miami Cubans away from GOP


Donald Trump is the catalyst who could force a decisive break between Miami-Dade County’s influential Cuban-American voters and the Republican Party, a new poll has found.

Local Cuban Americans dislike Trump so much — and are increasingly so accepting of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama — that Trump’slikely presidential nomination might accentuate the voters’ political shift away from the GOP, according to the survey shared with the Miami Herald and conducted by Dario Moreno, a Coral Gables pollster and a Florida International University associate politics professor.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents supported Trump, a number that is still higher than the 31 percent who backed Clinton — but also “the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate polls among this traditionally loyal demographic,” according to Moreno. He added that the results put likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton within “striking distance” of winning over the influential voting demographic. Trump won the March 15 Florida GOP primary in a rout.

“We’ve been seeing demographic changes in this community since 2004,” Moreno said, as younger voters of Cuban descent, and recent Cuban immigrants, have increasingly identified as Democrats or independents. “With Trump, the real danger is that he’s going to accelerate this realignment in Miami.”

Moreno is a Republican who has polled for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, though this poll was not conducted on either politician's behalf.

The pollster acknowledged his own bias against the Republican presidential front-runner: “I can’t vote for Trump,” Moreno said. “I’m not going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to vote for Trump.”

More here.

May 01, 2016

Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead


After talking with his primary opponent and Democratic Party officials in recent weeks, Democrat Daniel Horton said Sunday he is dropping his bid for a competitive Senate seat in South Florida and is turning his ambitions to a state House seat.

Horton announced his bid for state Senate less than a month ago.

The 30-year-old FIU law school graduate aimed to challenge Democrat Andrew Korge in the August primary for the District 39 Senate seat, which represents parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. The winner of that contest would have faced state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who's seeking re-election.

Flores and Korge had already been embroiled in a bitter race when Horton jumped in the fray.

But in a press release Sunday afternoon, Korge said Horton was bowing out of that contest and planning to, instead, challenge incumbent state Rep. Holly Raschein for the District 120 House seat.

In an interview with the Herald/Times, Horton confirmed his decision to switch legislative races.

"At the end of the day, I figure this is the best decision for the people that live in District 39, I think it's the best decision for the Democratic Party, and I think it's the best decision for myself," Horton said.

Continue reading "Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead" »

April 28, 2016

Former Miami-Dade mayor appears in court after battery charge

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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


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.


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.