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Miami federal judge unimpressed by Belen-Columbus political rivalry

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The federal judge who sentenced former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia's one-time aide Monday took a swing at Miami's two all-boys Catholic schools that pride themselves in graduating politicians.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez noted that Jeffrey Garcia, the congressman's former chief of staff, no relation, had gone to Belen Jesuit Preparatory along with Jose Rolando "Roly" Arrojo. Garcia propped up Arrojo as a tea-party ringer candidate against Republican David Rivera in the 2010 congressional election. 

"They treated this election for a very important office as an election for junior-class president at Belen high school," Martinez said from the bench Monday at Garcia's sentencing. "Give me a break."

Garcia's attorney, Henry Bell, also a Belen alumnus, rattled off a list of reasons why his client shouldn't be sent to jail. Martinez interrupted with another school reference -- this time citing Belen's rival, Christopher Columbus High.

"I thought Columbus was the politicians and Belen was the businessmen," Martinez mused. "Did I have that backwards?"

(Yes, business executive Jorge Mas, Columbus class of '81, joked to the Miami Herald at a Belen-Columbus football tailgate in 2012: "Politicians tend to be Belen graduates, and businessmen tend to be Columbus graduates.")

Bell brushed off the question by saying diplomatically that both schools had their share of alumni in the two professions, though he he did mention that Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is a Columbus grad. Then Bell referred to Belen's alumni in politics to try to show why his client had already been punished enough.

"That's a tight-knit group of people, and he's been humiliated and embarrassed there," Bell argued.

Judge Martinez ultimately agreed, sentencing Garcia and Arrojo to house arrest and probation. 

Martinez didn't disclose his own high school affiliation: St. Theresa High School, class of 1958.

He got his diploma with 11 other students, he said, as part of the Coral Gables' Catholic school's last graduating class. Students who were St. Theresa juniors transferred to a newly built school: Columbus.

--with Jay Weaver

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Caption: Joe Garcia, left, then a candidate for Congress, socializes with fellow Belen grads -- including former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, right -- at a Belen-Columbus football game tailgate in 2012.