Top 20 Most Corrupt and Crazy Public Servants
Miami Local Government. The sentence alone would draw extended guffaws from people around the country, conjuring up images of drug dealers greasing palms, and politicians selling their influence like hookers on Biscayne Boulevard. And, sadly, this reputation is far from undeserved. Because while every city has had its instances of corruption among local officials, nowhere else can you compile such an honor roll of sleaze than has graced the corridors of City Hall.
While this list is by no means complete, it does serve to show just how many of our civic leaders down here have been above the law or on the take. Some might say that is a big part of why Miami has so many problems. But, as long as we have folks like the ones on this list, Jose Quinon and the Miami Herald will never go out of business.
#1 - THE WORST OF THE WORST – HUMBERTO HERNANDEZ
Dubbed “Smirkin’ Bert” by famed Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen, Humberto Hernandez was one of the most unabashedly corrupt politicians Miami has ever known. In 1996, Humberto was selected to replace the dubious Miller Dawkins (more on him later) on the Miami City Commission and not nine months later was indicted on charges of lying on loan documents and inflating property values to get over $8 million in false mortgages for some properties in Key Biscayne. Then-governor Lawton Chiles decided Hernandez should probably sit out a few commission meetings pending his indictment, and suspended him.
While on trial for this crime, his lawyer, the infamous Jose Quinon, had an affair with Hernandez’ wife, Esther, prompting the disgraced commissioner to ask for a retrial. He never got it.
In addition to all of this, in 1997 Hernandez was also instrumental in registering City of Miami voters who were residing in other places (some of those places roughly six feet below the surface of the city) to vote for him as he ran for another commission seat, and Xavier Suarez for mayor. Governor Chiles, again, had to suspend Hernandez from his post. Though Suarez’ victory was eventually thrown out and the election deemed fraudulent, Smirkin’ Bert never did jail time for the fraud. He was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court in 1999, but, sadly, is eligible for reapplication this year.
#2 - NOT THE WORST OF THE WORST, BUT THE SADDEST OF THE SAD – ART TEELE
Anyone around Miami in 2005 knows the story of poor Art Teele. After being suspended by then-Governor Jeb Bush following an incident where he attempted to force a police officer off the road and threatened to shoot him, Teele walked into the lobby of the Herald building and shot himself in the head.
But before his theatrical ending, Teele was one of the more notorious members of both the Miami-Dade and City of Miami commissions. At the time of his death, he was also under federal indictment for mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. He was also charged, in a separate matter, with ten counts of unlawful compensation. A police investigation also found him involved in prostitution, drugs, and widespread government corruption. Teele was acquitted of the assault charge on the police officer, but convicted of threatening a public official. He died before facing trial on any other charges or serving any time.
#3 - ALEX DAOUD
Alex Daoud presided over Miami Beach during its most turbulent period, from the mid-80s to the early 90s. As South Beach made its transformation from God’s crime-ridden waiting room to Satan’s sex-ridden playground, the larger-than-life Daoud was its most visible government figure. While Mayor, Daoud admits to taking a $1000-a-month retainer from Capital Bank Chairman Abel Holz, accepting $20,000 a year to allow CenTrust chairman David Paul to build a blatantly-against-code dock for his 120-foot yacht, and essentially doing whatever the folks who could give him the most money wanted him to do. Daoud, never one to shy away from attention, actually wrote a book about his time in Beach politics called “Sins of South Beach.” Apparently some disgraced politicians don’t really see it as being a disgrace.
#4 - XAVIER SUAREZ- MAYOR LOCO
Could anyone come up with a more appropriate name for a slimy politician? Xavier Suarez, or Mayor Loco, or the Midnight Rambler, is not only one of the most corrupt civic leaders this city has ever seen, he is considered by some to be certifiably nuts. Suarez, the first Cuban-born mayor of the City of Miami, served from 1985-1993, as the city deteriorated from crime, poverty, and fiscal mismanagement. Despite his previous failings, he decided to give it another go and ran for Mayor again in 1997. This legendary contest, between him and Joe Carollo, initially saw Suarez win a narrow and hotly contested victory.
During his 111 days in office, Suarez went to Tallahassee to get money for the bankrupt city, endearing himself to capital bureaucrats by calling one powerful legislator “Senator Cabbage” and asking the governor about his daughter’s abortion. Meanwhile, back home he answered one Miamian’s angry letter to his office by going to visit her at her home. At 10:30 at night.
Meanwhile, Carollo had protested the election, claiming that Suarez had rigged the ballots. The courts decided that Suarez had, in fact, had dead people cast absentee ballots for him and he was removed from office. The best part? Suarez has also admitted to “handling” some absentee ballots for the 2000 presidential election. Yep, that’s right. So if you really think about it, the American disaster that has been the last 8 years is pretty much thanks to Miami’s own Mayor Loco.
#5 - RAUL MARTINEZ
Raul Martinez was the longtime mayor of Hialeah.
That sentence alone should immediately make you realize that he is one of the most unabashedly crooked and sleazy politicians in the history of the state. Allegedly. Martinez was convicted in 1991 of essentially selling his influence, especially in matters of zoning in the warehouse-saturated city of Hialeah, to the highest bidder. His lawyer in the case? Humberto Hernandez’ old buddy Jose Quinon, of course. Martinez appealed, and as he awaited retrial after retrial was repeatedly re-elected by the Castro-fearing people of Hialeah.
After a plethora of juries deadlocked on his case, fellow Democrat - and former opponent of Alberto Gutman - Kendall Coffey, then U.S. Attorney for South Florida, dropped the charges in 1996. This was before Martinez was captured live on television punching a man on a crowded Palmetto Expressway. The victim of the assault, of course, ended up in jail, and Martinez got another term.
Oh, and on the ballot as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress this fall? That’s right. Raul L. Martinez. South Florida voting memories, in case you couldn’t tell, are very short.
#6 - JOE CAROLLO
Though not especially corrupt, Joe Carollo is still one of the great characters in South Florida political lore. The youngest cop in the history of Metro Dade, Carollo’s brash attitude and flare-up temper never garnered him much success in law enforcement. So he took his flare to Miami City Hall, where as a commissioner he was legendary for butting heads with everyone from the police chief to the city manager.
In 1984, then-mayor Maurice Ferre called a press conference so his sometimes-rival Carollo could publicly announce his endorsement for Ferre’s re-eleciton bid. With cameras rolling, Carollo came to the podium and told the crowd he would never endorse Ferre for mayor, one of the great double-crosses in political history.
After being restored to office after the 1997 mayoral fiasco, Carollo became the public face of Miami’s movement to keep Elian Gonzales in America in 2000. Appearing over 50 times on national television, he became the TV voiceof Miami on an issue where most of the country felt we were just flat-out nuts. And maybe Joe helped them a little along that road.
TO COLLECT AND SERVE…
#7 - THE MIAMI RIVER COPS
The City of Miami police in the 1980s were as much a part of the cocaine boom that made the city famous as the smugglers and kingpins they were “trying” to arrest. And nothing exemplified the corruption of the Miami PD like the famed “Miami River Cops” scandal.
On July 29, 1985, a small fishing boat called the Mary C, loaded with about $12 million worth of cocaine, made its way up the Miami River. At some point that night, the offload went bad and three bodies ended up floating in the water. Even today, a dead body in the Miami River raises little more than a cocked eyebrow, but back when Miami was the murder capital of America one might think it would go unnoticed. But not this time. When a night watchman on the dock told police that a dozen police had raided the boat things got a little interesting. Investigators looked for a police report, but did not find one. Then they received a tip that 400 kilos of coke were aboard, but somehow vanished. Something was definitely up.
The investigation uncovered a vast network of Little Havana police who, with the aid of a local bar owner (who they later plotted to kill) shook down and raided small-time drug dealers, stealing both their money and their drugs. This particular raid had gone bad, apparently cost a few guys their lives, and resulted in the initial trial of seven officers: Rodolfo Arias, Luis Batista, Osvaldo Coello, Arturo de la Vega, Armando Estrada, Armando Garcia and Roman Rodriguez, and Ricardo Aleman. Arias and Batista pled guilty and testified against the rest, and Garcia is still at large.
Ultimately 24 officers were convicted and 17 sent to prison in the large scope of the investigation, which included incidents unrelated to the Mary C.
#8 - JOHN T-MONEY (JOHN TIMONEY)
Miami Police Chief John Timoney is about as unpopular as an unelected official can get. First were the lawsuits and claims of brutality stemming from the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit. Then we learned about his undisclosed use of a Lexus SUV from the boys at Lexus of Kendall, that he somehow forgot to mention to the city until WFOR mentioned it for him. Then his kid gets caught with enough weed to smoke out the entire NBA, and he gets a whopping 18 months in the Hotel Noriega in Miami. Then, of course, is the massive no-confidence vote from the Fraternal Order of Police. Not to mention that the New Times recently showed us that the guy has been out of town, on taxpayer dimes, of course, for roughly four months of his five-year term. Not including vacations. Though not robbing and killing drug dealers, Timoney is not exactly a model for what a police chief should be
#9 - KEN JENNE
Timoney, though, still doesn’t look too bad when compared to his contemporary to the north, former Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne. Jenne had not had as much public notoriety as Timoney, but in 2007, when it was discovered he had flat out fabricated three years’ worth of tax returns -including non-disclosure of a condo he sold in Lake Worth - people began to ask questions.
Of course, when a guy owes the IRS a lot of money, he’ll find ways of raising that money. And if you are Jenne, you do it through that favorite of South Florida public servant moonlighting jobs, “consulting.” Jenne “consulted” with several firms, on several issues, using county offices and resources to do so. And did he report any of this to anyone? Of course he didn’t. So, the man who was once Broward’s top cop is now serving one year and one day in federal prison after pleading guilty to three counts of tax evasion and one count of mail fraud.
THE MEN OF OPERATION GREENPALM
#10 - MILLER DAWKINS
Miller Dawkins was a Miami City Commissioner for almost 16 years. I say was, because like so many longtime crooked folks down at Miami City Hall, met his political demise in front of a federal judge. Dawkins was busted Operation Greenpalm, a full-scale effort to weed out corruption in local government. They pulled this particular weed, busing him on tape in a Denny’s parking lot extorting a tidy fee ($100,000 tidy) from computer company Unisys in exchange for his vote on a city contract. Not satisfied with just one six-figure payment, Dawkins then demanded another 100K from Unisys, at which point the company decided enough was enough and alerted the Miami police. Who told the FBI. Though Dawkins lost his seat and was sentenced to 27 months in prison after pleading guilty and crying at his sentencing hearing, much like in real gardening when this weed got pulled, it was just replaced by an even nastier one; the infamous Humberto Hernandez.
#11 - HOWARD GARY
Howard Gary was the first and only African-American City Manager in Miami’s history. Despite a loyal following among Miami’s Black community, Gary became a polarizing figure in an already racially tense Dade County when he was fired by the City Commission in 1984. Then-mayor Maurice Ferre and future mayor Joe Carollo cited Gary’s close relationships with executives at Sunshine State Bank, which was later found to be a major drug money laundering institution. Gary also used the city motor pool for almost nine grand worth of repairs to his Mercedes, claiming it was a “city perk,” and fired the chief of police during a 2 a.m. phone call citing insubordination. No word whether or not this was just a belligerent drunk dial.
Miami’s Blacks claimed the firings were racially motivated, and Gary became a sort of martyr for the cause. 12 years later, in 1996, Gary, who had then gone into finance and was well-connected in the bond trade, turned FBI informant in Operation Greenpalm. He approached then-County Commissioner James Burke and his aid Billy Hardemon about receiving kickbacks in exchange for a $180 million bond deal to a San Francisco businessman to revamp a West Dade recycling plant. While Gary, who had been implicated in the probe, never served time for it, he was instrumental in bringing the other two down.
To cap it all off, in 1997 Gary was accused of stealing a $68 shirt at Aventura Mall. He did not claim this, however, to be a city perk.
#12 - JAMES BURKE
James Burke was perhaps the highest-profile and most blatant conviction to come out of Operation Greenpalm. While FBI surveillance caught more multiple local officials accepting bribes in exchange for the West Dade recycling bond contract, Burke was the only one to give the media an iconic sound bite.
When Burke, then a Miami –Dade Commissioner, took his first $5000 payment in Howard Gary’s office, video captured him pocketing the money and saying, “This is a wonderful country.”
We’re not sure if he was referring to America or the Banana Republic that is Miami, but either way this particular piece of smugness landed Burke in jail after he was convicted on just one of nine bribery counts and received the minimum 27 months in prison. While on probation, he was later accused of beating his wife.
#13 - CESAR ODIO
Cesar Odio replaced the ousted Howard Gary when he was fired as City Manager in 1984. The choice, apparently, was a serious downgrade.
Odio served in the position for eleven years until he, like so many other Miami politicians, got a little too greedy. First, he conspired with powerful lobbyist Jorge de Cardenas to siphon tens of thousands of dollars from a city workers’ compensation contract, billing the money as a “consulting” fee for Cardenas. But when the FBI learned of the scam, and Odio felt the heat coming, he persuaded Finance Director Manohar Surana to help him cover it up and hinder the federal investigation. Which might have worked had the equally-as-corrupt Surana not already turned government informant for his role in Miller Dawkins’ Unisys scam. So Odio was caught on tape instructing his subordinate to obstruct justice.
As so many love to do, Odio invoked the old “save my family the embarrassment of a trial” excuse and pled guilty to obstructing a federal investigation and received one year in federal prison.
#14 - MANOHAR SURANA
Manohar Surana has the distinction of being linked to not one but two of the great corruption cases in mid-90s Miami. Check that; Manohar Surana has the distinction of being caught in not one but two of Miami’s mid-90s corruption scandals. Not only was he party to Miller Dawkins’ efforts to get $200,000 in kickbacks from a city computer contract, but when he was caught he decided to turn government informant so that he could plea-bargain his way out of an extortion charge.
Surana, the Finance Director for the City of Miami, wore a wire when he went to talk to then-City Manager Cesar Odio about Odio’s efforts to cover up a kickback scam he had set up with lobbyist Jorge de Cardenas. Odio essentially asked Surana to cover for him, Surana agreed, and then promptly turned the tape over to federal authorities. In exchange, his almost-as-corrupt son Pamit had all the charges against him associated with the Unisys scandal dropped. Manohar, though no longer charged with extortion, still pled guilty to one count of conspiracy and served a year in prison.
SOME OTHER QUALITY INDIVIDUALS
#15 - ALBERTO GUTMAN
Had Alberto Gutman not decided to try and scam cash out of the already-cash-strapped Medicare system, he would simply be known as the crazy state senator from South Florida who accused his opponent of using voodoo and Santeria against him during their 1998 contest. But what kind of legacy is that for a South Florida scumbag?
So Gutman used voter registration rolls to set up client lists for his fake home health care companies. The companies would then bill Medicare for the non-existent home care that they provided, and collect government payments totaling over $800,000. In 2000, he pled guilty and received five years in prison.
#16 - JUDGE FREEBASE, PHILLIP DAVIS
Phillip Davis was perhaps the most sensational of the five judges and six lawyers busted by “Operation Court Broom,” an FBI/FDLE investigation into crooked practices in Miami courtrooms. Davis was not only caught with marked bills that undercover agents used to catch judges who fixed cases, but when authorities looked for the cash in his home, they also found materials used for freebasing cocaine. That’s right, not content to simply be your run-of-the-mill Miami cokehead, Judge Davis took it one step further and did the old tin-foil-and-spoon trick in his chambers. Davis, as most scholarly folk who get caught with trailer trash drugs do, claimed it was for research.
Though he managed to escape conviction back in 1991, Davis again made headlines in 2005 when he set up the Miami-Dade Resident College, an organization run out of the county’s housing authority offices that allegedly helped troubled youths with counseling and vocational training. But much like many agencies receiving government money in South Florida, the MDRC never served any actual people, and netted its proprietors about $150,000. Fortunately for us, Davis had been disbarred ten years earlier. Otherwise I would not at all be surprised to see him elected to another term on the bench.
#17 - LARRY HAWKINS
A longtime member of the Metro Dade County Council, Larry Hawkins was a Vietnam Veteran who parlayed his battlefield injury into a lengthy political career in South Florida. A popular local Democrat, Hawkins fall from grace came in 1994 when several female staffers came forward and accused him of sexual harassment. In addition to being accused of the standard, inappropriate workplace innuendo, one staffer also accused Hawkins of getting drunk and exposing himself to her in her hotel room during a conference. Hawkins’ defense?
“This woman happens to be, in my opinion, unattractive.” Yeah, like that ever stopped a drunk man before.
In addition to his much publicized sexual harassment suits, Hawkins also approved grant money from the county for Easter Seals. This seems like a nice thing to do until you learn that he was hired as the organization’s executive director a few weeks later. Between his shady grant solicitation and his shadier personal solicitation, South Dade voters had apparently had enough. Hawkins was defeated in 1994 by political newcomer, and now commission mainstay, Katy Sorensen. He was also the last incumbent commissioner to lose in Miami-Dade County.
#18 - LORD OF THE PORT, CARMEN LUNETTA
For fifteen years, Carmen Lunetta reigned supreme over the Port of Miami. Year after year, the port grew and brought millions more in revenue to the county. Or so Lunetta claimed. After Operation Greenpalm brought increased FBI attention to Miami and Dade County finances, an audit of the port actually showed it millions in debt.
Lunetta had, among other things, amassed large amounts of debt that he never intended for the port to pay, counted accounts receivable that he never intended on collecting as income, and let his good buddies at a company called Fiscal Operations run the port with no oversight whatsoever. Fiscal Operations was the company in charge of the cargo cranes, among other things, at the port and repeatedly claimed over 85 percent of its revenue as “expenses.” Meanwhile the company spent what should have been county money on such items as Super Bowl tickets and lingerie. Also deducted as business expenses: Political contributions to county commissioners and others. No wonder everyone was looking the other way. And the owner of Fiscal Operations? None other than Calvin Grigsby, the San Francisco businessman involved in Greenpalm.
Lunetta also allowed county commissioners to dip into the port’s “promotional fund” for a variety of personal celebrations. The port boss resigned in 1997 and was later indicted on ten counts of embezzlement and money laundering. He was never convicted. In 2000, however, he was sentenced to six months house arrest for campaign contributions violations.
PLEASE WELCOME OUR NEWEST MEMBERS, THE MOST CROOKED EX-COUPLE IN MIAMI HISTORY
Our newest editions to the Miami Corrupt Civil Servants’ Club are Rene Rodriguez and his ex-wife Barabra Gomez. They are, if you didn’t know, two of the focal points of the Miami Herald’s now-famous “House of Lies” series that uncovered widespread corruption and waste in the county’s public housing department.
#19 - RENE RODRIGUEZ
Rodriguez was the longtime director of the Miami Dade Housing Agency, a government office charged with building affordable housing in this most unaffordable of cities. The idea was simple: The county established a surtax on commercial property sales, designed to fund loans to developers for low-income housing. But under Rodriguez’ watch, the agency loaned money to developers who didn’t even have land to put up as collateral, lacked solid plans, and often had no chance of paying the money back. What’s worse, millions of dollars’ worth of projects never got built.
And who were these developers? Many of them friends and associates of Rodriguez, one of whom even used the money to build himself a house in South Miami. Also on the payroll was the MDHA Development Corporation, a non-profit building group which Rodriguez founded. And while the group had planned to build 17 housing projects, it constructed just one.
If you have a day free, check out the whole story here.
#20 - BARBARA GOMEZ
Though she and her husband are now divorced, Barbara Gomez (formerly Gomez-Rodriguez) will be forever linked to him in the House of Lies. Gomez was the head of the Miami Department of Community Development, and oversaw the awarding of the unpaid loans to developers, many of whom used the grants to flip the land for profit. Essentially, her problems were the same as her ex-husbands, just as head of a separate authority. She has since been forced out of her job, resigning rather than accepting a demotion and a large pay cut. She and her lawyer, who else but Jose Quinon, have been more than eager to offer up personal records from her ex-husband, however, assisting in the criminal investigation into his involvement in the scandals.
With many local elections looming this fall, hopefully some of our local civil servants have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors: Be greedy and corrupt and you’ll get really embarrassed by the Miami Herald before getting a light sentence and a cushy “consulting” job. While it is sad to read about the widespread corruption we’ve had in our local government, you have to wonder if we’re just the ones with officials stupid enough to get caught. Could it be that everyone is as corrupt as we are here in South Florida? Or are we really, like everyone likes to say, America’s own Banana Republic?
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