Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez Convicted of Extortion and Racketeering (Flashback 1991)
|Reprint NYT 1991:|
Hialeah Journal; Where Politics Is Down and Dirty
By LARRY ROHTER
Mayor Raul Martinez, was convicted of extortion and racketeering in March after a jury found he had accepted $1 million in cash and property from land developers. His replacement, Julio Martinez, complains that his efforts to clean up the city and pass a new budget have been thwarted because the police Chief and the majority of the City Council defy his orders and remain loyal to the man he replaced.
“It’s just a dispute between politicians, no different than what goes on in New York, Chicago, Washington or New Orleans,” Julio Martinez said this week.
Perhaps. But events took a peculiar turn earlier this month when two supporters of Julio Martinez found cow’s tongues at their office door, another received a fish head in his mailbox, and a severed and muzzled goat’s head was discovered in a police department parking lot.
In a city with a population that is 88 percent Hispanic, mostly from working-class Cuban immigrant families, the symbolism of those acts was immediately obvious. Not content to resolve the battle for control of Hialeah through conventional political channels, someone had resorted to santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion akin to voodoo that uses animal sacrifice.
The dispute over who should run this city of 200,000 just west of Miami began 18 months ago, when Mayor Raul Martinez, first elected in 1981, was indicted. The Mayor was suspended by Gov. Bob Martinez, and in accordance with the municipal charter, the City Council President, Julio Martinez, became Acting Mayor. None of the three Martinezes are related.
Raul Martinez’s situation is not all that unusual in South Florida, where corruption cases involving politicians and judges have become almost routine in recent years. On Tuesday, Mayor Alex Daoud of Miami Beach was indicted on 41 counts of racketeering, extortion, money laundering and tax evasion.
But Hialeah, Florida’s fifth-largest city, has a severe image problem even by local standards. English-speaking Floridians have been known to refer disparagingly to Hialeah as “the northernmost city in Latin America,” and even upper-class Cubans who have settled in prosperous enclaves like Coral Gables tend to label anything garish or gauche as “muy Hialeah.”
“As Cuban-Americans, we should be ashamed of this circus,” said Rolando Muhlig Benitez, an elementary school teacher who is running as a reform candidate in next week’s City Council election. “Cow tongues and goat heads, what sort of nonsense is that? It makes us look ridiculous, like we’re a bunch of savages.”
The Acting Mayor agrees that the city’s reputation has been damaged, but says it is not his fault. He blames Raul Martinez and the Chief, Rolando Bolanos, who has called him a liar on local radio programs and is viewed as an ally of the suspended Mayor.
Mr. Bolanos said “it is more than ridiculous, it is stupid for Julio Martinez to suggest that I am a santero,” or santeria priest. “I don’t know of any police officer in this department who believes in santeria,” he added. The Chief said “the problems between Julio Martinez and me are the result not of factional politics but of his political interference in criminal investigations, hiring and transfers.”
Residents say they are irritated by the dispute because it prevents officials from focusing on the city’s real problems. Hialeah’s population has grown rapidly, and lax zoning procedures and the absence of a master city plan have combined to create urban sprawl, with hospitals and automobile repair shops popping up in the middle of residential blocks.
“I don’t mind if the politicians fight among themselves, as politicians always do,” Antonio Hernandez said in response to a question as he emerged from a supermarket. “But if city services and law enforcement suffer, and there is chaos, that is intolerable. We voters are going to have to bring this to a stop.”
Voters will go to the polls here next week to elect four City Council members, which may clarify the situation. But Gov. Lawton Chiles has refused to remove Raul Martinez from office, saying a conviction is final only when the appeal process is exhausted.
That decision was upheld this month by the Florida Supreme Court, creating the prospect of continued sparring between supporters of the two Martinezes until the next mayoral election, scheduled for November 1993.
“This is just another chapter in a long and dirty soap opera,” Mr. Muhlig Benitez said wearily. “It just keeps getting worse and worse, and I am afraid there is more to come.”