Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez Received $275,000 from Racketeering in Real Estate Deals (Flashback 1990)
|Reprint NYT 1990: (Bold fonts added)|
South Florida Journal; New Zeal Takes Aim at Official Vice
July 12, 1990
MIAMI, July 10— If a surge of investigations and indictments of public officials and financiers is any guide, Miami and its sister municipalities have been enjoying their vices even more than usual lately.
According to the United States Attorney’s office, more than 30 investigations of corruption by local, state and Federal officials in South Florida are under way so far this year.
”We’ve indicted more public officials in the last 18 months than were indicted in the last 10 years,” said Dexter Lehtinen, the acting United States Attorney in Miami.
In the small Dade County town of Sweetwater, for example, the Mayor and members of the City Council have been convicted of wrongdoing in office. In neighboring Hialeah, the Mayor and a member of the City Council have been indicted, and in Miami Beach the Mayor is under investigation.
The burst of charges against community leaders has prompted soul-searching even in a city like Miami that is accustomed to easy money, fast deals and close relationships between developers and local politicians who control land use and building permits.
City officials whose probity has not been called into question, like Mayor Xavier Suarez of Miami, say the current spate of investigations is far from the norm.
But other observers say that corruption among officials is inevitable in this state of seemingly endless real-estate booms and that the crimes being alleged are in fact ”business as usual” here. What is unusual these days, many believe, is a new prosecutorial zeal.
Mr. Lehtinen has appeared to give some support for that view by repeatedly declaring in recent months that he is making a special effort to increase investigations and prosecutions of public corruption.
He said in an interview that he had assigned some of his best prosecutors to a public corruption unit and has been pressing the issue hard for the last year because ”corruption is a serious problem here in South Florida.”
Allegations of misdeeds have touched leading figures in the private as well as the public sector.
David L. Paul, the former chairman of Centrust Savings Bank of Miami who was once Miami’s leading business magnate, is under Federal investigation after the $2 billion collapse of Centrust. The Federal Government seized the company in February and sold it off two weeks ago.
Mayor Alex Daoud of Miami Beach came under the scrutiny of Federal investigators earlier this year when, they found out while investigating Centrust that he had received a total of $35,000 in 1988 and 1989 in supposed legal fees from an insurance subsidiary of Centrust. During that time the Mayor had voted in favor of a zoning waiver to let Mr. Paul extend a disputed teak dock at his island home to better accommodate his new 95-foot $7 million yacht.
Mr. Daoud refused to comment on his vote and the payments. But his lawyer, Alan E. Weinstein, said the Mayor had not broken any laws and had not allowed his vote to be influenced.
”You can be on retainer to a corporate client and vote on an issue involving a member of the firm,” Mr. Weinstein said. ”That is not illegal.”
He also said the Council vote had been 6 to 1 in favor of the zoning waiver so Mr. Daoud had not cast the deciding vote.
Mr. Paul has consistently refused to comment on the issue, and his lawyer, Sandy Bowrer, said he would not comment either beyond saying Mr. Paul had not broken any laws.
Other business arrangements by local officials have also come under scrutiny. Judge John Gale, a veteran of Dade County Circuit Court, for example, was provided with new Jaguars for 18 years at well below cost by a local dealer.
Judge Gale has denied wrongdoing, but last month the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission formally charged him with ”receiving gifts and favors” while on the bench. The judge continues to serve and will be allowed to defend his actions before the commission.
In Hialeah earlier this year, Mayor Raul Martinez and Councilman Andres Mejides were removed from office by the Governor under Florida law after being indicted for extortion and racketeering in real estate deals.
In its indictment the United States Attorney’s office contended Mayor Martinez received at least $275,000 from alleged racketeering. The indictment charged the Mayor and Councilman Mejides with ”explicitly and implicitly threatening to use their official powers and authority to the economic detriment of the real estate developers, builders and investors.”
Mr. Martinez, who continued to work as a developer while Mayor, has denied all charges of wrongdoing, as has Mr. Mejides.
In Sweetwater, six of the City Council’s eight members, including the Mayor, were named in a corruption indictment in January and then removed from office by the Governor. Last week, former Mayor Irain Gonzalez and former Councilmen Antonio Duran and Carmen Menendez were found guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion.
As for the three other Council members removed from office, Hugo Alvarez and Lucio Cobian have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion and Manuel Avila was an unindicted co-conspirator.
”It’s certainly not business as usual,” said Mayor Suarez of Miami. ”This definitely is embarrassing.”