November 05, 2015

Loanshark South Florida mayor tries to pay $4K ethics fine in pennies. Checks only, commission says

CUBO MONEDAS2via @BrendaMedinar

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez finally decided to pay the $4,000 fine the Miami-Dade County ethics commission imposed earlier this year on his business dealings with Ponzi schemer and one-time jeweler Luis Felipe Pérez

On Thursday, Hernandez sent the commission a truck stacked with 28 buckets filled with pennies to cover the fine. But his payment wasn't accepted. Apparently the commission accepts only checks.

Univision 23 reported commission officials asked Hernandez's emissaries to leave with the buckets -- and threatened to call police if they didn't. Commission members declined comment, according to Univision. 

"They don't want to take our money...Cash," Hernandez told Univision. "I paid it with American money, of the United States, and I have the right to do that."

The mayor has called the ethics case against him a political "circus." 

In July, the commission found Hernandez guilty of "knowingly" lying to the community -- in English and Spanish -- about receiving high-interest payments of 36 percent from Pérez on $180,000 in private loans. He was penalized with a $3,000 civil penalty plus $1,000 to cover investigative costs, as well as a letter of reprimand.

Pérez conned several people out of some $40 million -- including Hialeah political figures such as Hernandez. As part of the Ponzi scheme, according to authorities, investors received interest payments of 36 percent, which is considered loansharking. The case erupted in 2010.

During his 2011 mayoral campaign, Hernandez assured reporters in a news conference that he never received interest payments from Pérez. But last year, when he testified as a federal prosecution witness in the case against his predecessor, Julio Robaina, Hernandez said he received more than $100,000 in interest payments, contradiction his prior statements.

The 28 penny-filled buckets ended up back at Hialeah City Hall on Thursday.

--BRENDA MEDINA, el Nuevo Herald

Photo courtesy Univision 23 via el Nuevo Herald

In David Beckham negotiations with Miami-Dade schools, plan for new sports management school dropped


When the Miami-Dade County school district stepped up in October as a surprise partner in David Beckham's quest to build a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami, schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho suggested a new school would get built as part of the plan. 

It was envisioned as a sports-management magnet -- built right into the soccer venue -- at no cost to taxpayers. 

Just a few weeks into negotiations with Miami Beckham United, that vision has been pared down. 

Timothy Leiweke, part of Beckham’s investment group, told the Miami Herald’s editorial board on Thursday that, when it comes to building a school: "Quite frankly, we don’t have the space or the money."

Leiweke said it’s more likely that spaces like press conference rooms will be built to serve double-duty as classrooms, where children can come to learn about sports medicine.

In an emailed statement, Carvalho suggested the focus had shifted to negotiating "meaningful educational space" within the stadium.

"This is an inflexible condition for our work ahead," Carvalho wrote. 

Beckham United is looking to partner with the school district because that would allow the team to build a stadium tax-free.

In return, the district is looking for perks like use of the stadium for high school graduations, band competitions and football games. Leiweke said the school district wouldn’t be charged rent for events, but that the fringe costs such as cleanup would be billed to Miami-Dade schools.

Carvalho said the district has an understanding with Beckham's team that the district "would not be expending any public dollars on the acquisition of any part of the land for the project; any part of the construction of the stadium, nor the maintenance of the stadium."  

Beckham United has been working on bringing Major League Soccer to Miami for more than a year. In late October, negotiations took a surprise turn when the school board stepped in as a potential partner. It marked a shift away from the county government, with whom Beckham had originally been negotiating.

The outline of a deal with the school board is expected to be presented in November. 

Miami commission candidate Teresa Sarnoff concedes race, says she won't campaign in runoff

From a letter Miami city commission candidate Teresa Sarnoff sent exclusively to the Miami Herald editorial board:

After much deliberation, I have made the decision to finish my campaign with a very positive message. I did not engage in negative campaigning and do not condone negative campaigning. You do not create your reputation by tearing someone else’s down. The traditional strategy to finish this campaign requires a negative campaign with a negative message. This is something I just will not do.

Although my campaign remains financially viable and well funded, I have made the choice to do something different that, I hope, will establish a precedent moving forward. I have made the choice to finish this election with a socially conscious campaign.

With the existing campaign account, I will support the three causes that are near and dear to my heart: animal rescue, the homeless and a free trolley for the Grove.

District 2 does not need to be torn apart. It is counterproductive for business leaders who are investing in this community to invest in a campaign to seek vindication. Elected officials should not involve themselves by jumping into the campaign at the 11th hour, when they were not there from the beginning.

I will support Ken Russell in his governance and strongly urge him to make a legislative change to a plurality vote for elections or to allow the electorate to make a second choice on their ballots (as Oregon does) so as to avoid the need for a runoff and the insanity and cost of a two-week sprint that tears apart the community, leaving the elected wounded.

I remain in this election as it remains unclear what the law is if the runner-up concedes. I do not want to put the taxpayers at risk of a lawsuit by the second runner-up, who has already cost the taxpayers more than $12 million, money that will never be made up and money that could have improved our police department or parks or help fund transportation solutions.

As I have always said from the beginning: I love Miami, and this is what is best for Miami.


David Beckham partner: Land owners ‘probably will’ blow up Miami soccer deal


Even as they race to meet a swift-approaching deadline to purchase six private properties and negotiate a stadium agreement with two local governments, David Beckham and his partners are bracing for the possibility -- even likelihood -- that a deal to build a soccer stadium in Miami will fall apart.

In an unusually blunt interview with the Miami Herald Editorial Board, Tim Leiweke, Miami Beckham United’s point man on stadium negotiations in Miami, said Thursday that the partnership continues to make progress with the city of Miami to purchase city land across the street from Marlins Park and transfer it to the Miami-Dade School Board. But he said parallel negotiations to purchase six private parcels on the proposed stadium footprint have stalled as land owners haggle for unreasonable prices.

“They know what we’re doing and unfortunately they’ve let that create an absolutely unrealistic conversation. They can absolutely blow this deal up, and they probably will blow this deal up,” he said. “We’re willing to overpay. We just don’t want to be the stupidest guys on the face of the earth.”

If the negotiations fail, Leiweke said Beckham’s group -- which has already whiffed on stadium sites at PortMiami and next to the AmericanAirlines Arena -- has yet another fallback plan at an undisclosed site. He faulted Miami Beckham United mostly for the team's problems, saying "this has not been the smartest negotiation I've been a part of."

Leiweke’s comments come just weeks ahead of a Major League Soccer board of governors meeting scheduled for the first weekend in December. Leiweke said Miami Beckham United will be expected to appear with a deal in place, pending a binding voter referendum in the city. If they don’t have a set agreement and all six properties purchased, he said it’s hard to predict what will happen with Beckham’s option to buy a new MLS franchise.

“If we don’t have a deal by that MLS board meeting it’s up to the commissioner and the board to decide what happens to this option. But I am worried. It’s been a long time since this has been discussed and we’ve been unable to come to them with a viable plan that works,” he said. “If at the end of the day, whether it be the politics or the greed of the situation we’re facing makes this unable to happen ... then I’ll let the commissioner decide. But I don’t like those odds and it makes me very nervous about MLS in Miami.”

Ben Carson brushes up on wet-foot, dry-foot: 'It doesn't make sense to me'

Ben1 carson lnew cmg


A day after getting caught off guard by questions about U.S.-Cuba policy, Ben Carson visited Miami and questioned the practice of allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain in the country but returning to the island Cubans intercepted at sea.

“It doesn’t make sense to me, quite frankly, the whole wet-foot, dry-foot thing, doesn’t make sense to me because, like I said, you catch them a mile [away], you treat them differently than if you’re on the shore,” Carson told reporters in a break from signing copies of his latest book at a West Kendall Barnes & Noble.

The next part of the Republican presidential candidate’s answer seemed to conflate wet-foot, dry-foot with the Cuban Adjustment Act, the federal law that allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency after spending 366 days in the country.

“And also, recognize that many people have taken advantage of that and you know gotten all kinds of benefits that perhaps they don’t deserve,” Carson said. “There are other people who perhaps get denied things that they should have.”

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has lived in West Palm Beach since 2013, said he “looked into” wet-foot, dry-foot after telling the Miami Herald he was unfamiliar with it in a phone interview Wednesday.

Continue reading "Ben Carson brushes up on wet-foot, dry-foot: 'It doesn't make sense to me'" »

Florida Supreme Court: Alex Diaz de la Portilla didn't actively flout court in divorce dispute over dogs


The Florida Supreme Court says a former Miami Republican state senator's failure to show up for court hearings related to the custody of family dogs in his bitter divorce four years ago doesn't constitute "direct criminal contempt" of court because there was a lack of evidence that he knowingly failed to attend the hearings.

Rather Alex Diaz de la Portilla's defiance of a court order constituted a more passive act, known as "indirect criminal contempt," the court said in its 18-page ruling, released Thursday.  Download Sc14-1625

During the divorce proceedings, Diaz de la Portilla was ordered to hand over one of two family dogs  -- Elvis and Priscilla -- to his then-wife, lobbyist Claudia Davant, but failed to do so. (Diaz de la Portilla is brother to current Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.)

In 2011, Alex Diaz de la Portilla didn't show up for two court hearings, where Davant asked a judge to hold her husband into contempt of court for not delivering the couple's dog as ordered. After the second time, the trial court judge issued a warrant for Diaz de la Portilla's arrest and sought to hold him in direct criminal contempt, saying he was "thumbing his nose" at the authority of the court.

But the Florida Supreme Court -- agreeing with the First District Court of Appeals -- said people held in contempt have to be given the opportunity for a hearing before such a finding of guilt is made. The court said there was a lack of evidence that Diaz de la Portilla was notified that he was required to attend the hearings in person.

"When an individual fails to appear, the court is not capable of making the necessary inquiries of the absent individual, and likewise is unable to hear evidence of excusing or mitigating circumstances. The rules of criminal contempt must be strictly followed so as to protect the due process rights of the defendant," Justice Fred Lewis wrote in the 6-1 opinion, with Justice Charles Canady dissenting.

Canady said the court shouldn't have even considered the case, because the Supreme Court was only asked for its advisory opinion on when direct-versus-indirect criminal contempt applies. The First District Court of Appeal had deemed the issue "of great public importance" because there had been conflicting precedent set by Florida's trial courts and district courts of appeal.

"This court should not be in the business of issuing advisory opinions except as specifically authorized by the Florida Constitution," Canady wrote in his dissent.

What does this mean for Diaz de la Portilla? His contempt-of-court charge gets kicked back to the trial court.

November 04, 2015

Short of votes in Senate, Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva agree to try to revise Miami districts again

Redistricting conferenceMiami-Dade's Hispanic districts remained the focal point of the high stakes conflict between the House and Senate over the redrawing of the state Senate boundaries Wednesday as it became apparent that Senate leaders did not have the votes to pass a House map that significantly revised the configuration of the South Florida districts.

The full Senate met for 30 minutes to take up the House's redistricting map, S9079 and, rather than taking up a vote on the compromise plan, they agreed to a rare two-person conference committee to work out their differences.  

Two hours later, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, met for 10 minutes in the Senate's cavernous conference room, filled with two dozen curious House and Senate members, deeply concerned about what any new map could mean to their political future. 

With little debate, Galvano and Oliva agreed to have staff make changes to only the Miami portion of the House map, picking up a configuration previously offered in a draft map known as S9080 and S9074. 

Continue reading "Short of votes in Senate, Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva agree to try to revise Miami districts again" »

PHOTOS: Ernesto Perez and his political friends

Cantor and mayor



Before his for-profit college suddenly collapsed on Friday, and before he was arrested for allegedly illegal campaign contributions on Tuesday, Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez was the king of an educational empire. Perez earned $431,999 a year, put his parents and wife on the company payroll, and he contributed heavily to political campaigns.

Perez enjoyed access to local, state, and federal politicians — a U.S. Senator from Colorado, the mayors of Miami and Homestead, and lots of state lawmakers. Here are photographs of some of the many politicians who crossed paths with Dade Medical College. The photos demonstrate the enormous level of Perez’s political reach.

See more photos here

South Miami and Broward square off with state over federal carbon plan

Turkey point bay shot@jenstaletovich

The small but feisty city of South Miami and Broward County, a longtime Democratic stronghold, is squaring off with Florida's Republican leadership in the national fight to cut greenhouse gases by imposing limits on power plants.

On Wednesday, the two local governments joined forces with 23 other cities and states in a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed last month by 23 states, including Florida, that opposes the Obama administration's new EPA rules to reduce carbon.

In challenging the Clean Power Plan, Attorney General Pam Bondi argued the new rules are will raise the cost of electricity while making service less reliable. Bondi, who also sued to stop the Affordable Care Act, said the new rules trample states' rights.

Not so, said rule supporters.

The motion, filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, contends that many states have already enacted their own limits on greenhouse gases to battle the effects of climate change. The  new EPA rule, the motion says, would extend those efforts nationwide. In vulnerable South Florida, where seasonal high tides now regularly flood streets, setting limits would "level the playing field" while allowing states to customize carbon cuts, according to a resolution passed by South Miami last month.

Among the states and cities siding with the EPA are Connecticut, California, Virginia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Iowa, Maine, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and Philadelphia.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho floated as contender to lead L.A. school district


It seems speculation about the future of Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho always follows him.

The head of the country's fourth-largest school district has been floated as a contender for Miami-Dade mayor or even president of the University of Miami.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times revived speculation about Carvalho possibly heading up the L.A. Unified school district, listing the 51-year old as a likely finalist for the position -- if he's interested.

Carvalho has previously said he wants to serve at least through the end of his contract, which runs until 2020.

"My commitment, as stated numerous times before, is to this community and our school district," Carvalho wrote in text message early Wednesday evening. 

The 2014 national Superintendent of the Year enjoys the deep support of his school board and has cultivated a growing prominence nationally. Carvalho recently met with President Barack Obama to talk about testing in schools and was appointed to a national testing board.  

The Times reported that the school district is keeping its job hunt confidential, so it's not known who is actually interested in the job. The nation's second-largest school district is looking to fill its top spot by the end of the year.