Florida grand jury says Broward County school board corrupt, should be abolished

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In a report released Friday, a special grand jury investigating the School Board of the nation’s sixth largest school district, accused it of rampant corruption and  reckless spending of taxpayer monies.

The Florida grand jury said that things are so bad, that if it had the power, it would abolish the Broward County School Board.

“We cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen,’’ reads a report compiled by the grand jury. “Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.

The report also said that the district superintendent Jim Notter, was not strong enough to run the school system.

The 51-page report provides details of Board members of taking political donations from contractors and vendors doing business with the district, and handing out millions of dollars of contracts for goods and services to those supporters.

The report concludes:

“The corruptive influence here is most often campaign contributions from individuals with a financial stake in how Board members vote. Long ago the Board should have recognized the risk that putting themselves in the center of handing out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars would inevitably drawn attention and undue influence from moneyed interests…Only now, years later and with pressure from all sides, have they begun to take steps to resolve this and other issues.

“Unfortunately based on the history of this Board as an institution, we have no confidence in their ability to make meaningful changes and to adhere to them. The solutions we see, at least short term, are to remove as much power and influence from the Board as possible and to have an independent outside authority monitor their dealings closely.’’

According to The Miami Herald, the recommendations included:

Refuse campaign contributions from contractors, vendors and others doing business with the Board.

Require mandatory ethics training and testing by an outside agency.

All late additions to the Board’s agenda must be discussed at a public meeting.

Add more detail to agenda items or provide a link to where more information concerning the item can be found.

Reduce the threshold on spending items on the consent agenda.

Remove retainer reductions from consent agenda.

Require recommendation of the Superintendent or the Deputy Superintendent for reduction in retainer to be in writing and under their signature.

End the influence of the Board over the Building department by turning over inspections to local building departments.

Reduce number of school board members to 5.

Place before the voters the issue of electing the Superintendent.

Create independent office of Inspector General to monitor the Board and District

Prohibit board members from being involved in the selection of contractors, vendors, or financial institutions.

No official business should be conducted between school board members and staff

All bids should be opened in public, with Auditor there to certify bids met minimums.

No decisions should be made anywhere other than a regularly scheduled board meeting.

No discussions should be had other than at Board meetings or workshops as per Sunshine Law requirements.

Prohibit gifts of any value to any Board member or District employee from anyone doing business with the District or lobbying the Board

Empower Department of Education to penalize districts that don’t file require paperwork by withholding any state funds until certificates of occupancy, inspections and other project documents are filed.

The report also recommended that an outside monitor be appointed to review every action of the current Board.

The Miami Herald

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North Miami mayor admits to handing out official police-like badges to “city volunteers”

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At a city council meeting Tuesday evening, North Miami Andre Pierre apologized to the audience for ordering 43 police-like badges, inscribed “Mayor’s Staff”, which cost taxpayers $4,151.

Last week, The Miami Herald first reported the story, in which Pierre claimed that he couldn’t remember how many he ordered, and how many he handed out. The trouble with the badges, is that the mayor’s staff consists of three person, all of whom he shares with city council members.

After the council meeting, Pierre said that he provided a badge to each of the staff members, and an undisclosed number to “city volunteers,” although he refused to mention any names. He also refused to answer questions why he ordered them in the first place.

Pierre bypassed the city manager when purchasing the badges, instead asking Police Chief, Stephen Johnson, to order them. The badges are similar to a law enforcement shield and feature the Florida state seal.

At the council meeting, Pierre repeated an earlier contention that the request should have not been mistaken as an order to purchase the badges. “I never gave him a command,” said Pierre.

Critics blasted Pierre for spending taxpayer monies on the badges, which might easily be mistaken for law enforcement shields. They say the badges could be used to obtain favors or intimidate citizens.

City Manager Russell Benford was not aware of the badges until contacted by the media last week. He said he’s asked Pierre to retrieve the badges.

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Miami police chief asks FBI to investigate mayor

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The latest turn in the battle between Miami’s Police Chief Miguel Exposito and Mayor Tomás Regalado was reported today in The Miami Herald. In a press conference held Friday, Exposito told reporters that he has asked the FBI to investigate the mayor’s office for what he says, is meddling in police business.

Exposito claims Regalado was interfering with police operations when he allegedly tried to interfere with raids on businesses offering illegal gambling, using a popular type of video gaming machine which is often rigged for payout, violating state gambling laws.

Following though on accusations contained in a letter sent to the mayor’s office last week, accusing him of interfering with police operations and being in the pocket of gaming interests, Exposito said that he turned over evidence to the FBI supporting his allegations.

Last week, another top ranking police official said that he received a call from Regalado after the raids started on Oct. 25, suggesting they be halted. The former city manager, Carlos Migoya, told sources that Regalado suggest he call Exposito, and see if the raids could be delayed.

A new ordinance sponsored by Regalado, had just gone into effect 11 days before the police raids. The ordinance was intended to regulate the machine and raise money for the city, although police contended that it would simply flood the city with more of the machines.

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Clash escalates between Miami’s mayor and police chief over slot machines

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A war over gaming machines is breaking out in Miami, and it’s between Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Miquel Exposito, who was appointed by the mayor only 13 months ago.

The Miami Herald reported Wednesday on the escalating fracture between Regalado and Exposito, which is looking more like a power struggle every day.

Sources say that Exposito might be fired in the next few days by incoming City Manager Tony Crapp Jr. over the gaming machine flap, and other performance issues in the police department, including several controversial police shootings last summer and a number of mishandled corruption investigations in the early part of 2010.

The machines, long popular in cafeterias and bodegas, have been a thorn in the side of police and city officials, because some have been rigged in a fashion that makes them illegal gaming devices.

To be legal, the video gaming machines, which are designed to look like Las Vegas style slot machines, cannot be games of chance or provide any type of payback, even a credit for another play. As the machines began proliferating around Miami, some operators rigged them for cash payout or free drinks.

Last year, in attempt to regulate the machines and earn revenues for the city, Regalado sponsored a new city ordinance that would require a $500 annual tax for each machine after the operator registered it with the city. The new regulation is expected to raise about $750,000 annually for the city.

The new law makes the machines legal, as long as they are used just for amusement, and not gambling. The prior city law considered all machines to be illegal.

Police officials including Chief Exposito were vocally opposed to the ordinance, saying that it would only help proliferate illegal gaming throughout the city.

On October 25, 11 days after the ordinance took effect, the police department conducted a raid dubbed “Lucky 7” and seized 400 illegal machines and arrested 28 people, mostly store clerks. Neither city hall or the district attorney’s office were told about the raids in advance.

Sources at the police department, including Maj. Alfredo Alverez, told the Miami Herald that when Regalado heard of the raids, he demanded they be stopped, saying they would reflect badly on the administration in the upcoming November elections.

Regalado subsequently denied telling the police department to stop the raids.

In late December, Exposito sent a letter to Regalado saying “Through the Mayor’s office there was a concerted effort to interfere with the gambling enforcement operation. You, as the Mayor have gone beyond the legal bounds of your office.” The letter did not specify exactly what Regalado did to interfere with the police department.

Exposito’s letter also suggested that Regalado was beholden to gaming interests because donors connected to the group contributed $9,000 to his reelection campaign. Regalado raised a total of over $800,000 for his 2009 campaign.

On Wednesday, Miami Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, said he will ask for Exposito’s resignation at the city’s Jan. 13 meeting. “If he doesn’t, I will lay out a whole litany of things. He’s trying to use intimidation [to save his job], that’s what the whole letter is about,” Dunn said. “I believe for the best interest of the city we need a mature, experienced veteran leader at that position.”

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Miami cop arrested for stealing 10,000 Bluetooth headsets

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A Miami cop, already under investigation for two fatal police shootings over the summer, was arrested on Thursday for receipt and possession of stolen goods.  Ricardo Martinez, 40, faces 10 years in prison if convicted on the charge.

Martinez is a 12-year veteran of the force. A Miami police spokeswoman, Kenia Reyes, said that Martinez was suspended with pay while the investigation is pending.

Officials say that Martinez stole the headsets off a truck that was transporting the merchandise from Chicago to Miami. The company handling the shipment is owned by Martinez’s wife.

Martinez had teamed up with a man who at one time was incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center in Miami, where Martinez formerly worked. FBI agents approached the man on Wednesday, and he agreed to be a confidential source. While agents met with the man, Martinez called several times discussing possible buyers for the merchandise.

The man told agents he had “an agreement with a MPD officer to steal a shipment of 10,000 Bluetooth headsets” and that they planned to sell them for $10 each. Martinez was planning to make about $40,000 on the deal.

On Thursday, the informant and Martinez drove to a house where they loaded the headsets into a vehicle provided by the FBI.  Agents on the scene arrested him.

The Miami Herald

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Florida Congressman-elect tied to secret $510,000 payment from dog track

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David Rivera, the Congressman-elect from Florida’s 25th congressional district, has been named in an investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, according to a story in The Miami Herald. State lawyers are looking into payments totaling $510,000 that were paid to a company closely tied to Rivera, which was managed by his 70 year-old mother,  Daisy Magarino, and owned by his godmother, Ileana Medina.

Investigators are trying to determine if Rivera personally received the monies, and if the transaction was illegal. Since 2002, Rivera has been a member of Florida’s House of Representatives.

Rivera worked for 16 months on Flagler's behalf, but claims he received no compensation.

The company, Millennium Marketing, was hired by the Flagler Dog Track in October 2006 to manage a campaign to win voter approval for Las Vegas style slot machines at racetracks in Miami-Dade County. According to the 2006 contract, Rivera was to be the campaign’s “top leader of chain of command of all campaign consultants and campaign activities.”

Flagler’s lawyer, Roberto Martinez, said that Rivera first approached the company in 2006, suggesting that he work on the slot machine campaign, and that it be contracted through Millennium. Records show that Millennium was incorporated on Sept. 25, 2006 by Medina, a longtime business partner of Magarino.

Martinez said his clients wanted the personal services of Rivera, and company executives never dealt with Magarino or Medina during the term of the contract. The Flagler contract was signed by both Rivera and Medina.

The contract required that Rivera spend 75 percent of his time managing the slots campaign to win voter approval. A similar measure was defeated by voters in 2005.

His duties were spelled out in the contract: gaining support of city leaders and unions, the “identification and neutralization of opposition” including competing gambling operations, animal rights groups and “the Hispanic community.” The contract was executed by both Rivera and Medina. Martinez said that his clients wanted the personal services of Rivera, and company executives never dealt with Magarino or Medina during the term of the contract.

Earlier this year, a Flagler executive, Isadore Havenick, painted a markedly different picture about Rivera’s duties. Havenick said that the company had no deal with Rivera and that “he gave us advice, but he was never hired by us.” Martinez defended Havenick’s statement saying that it wasn’t incorrect since the monies were paid directly to Millennium, not Rivera.

Flagler made its first payment of $50,000 to Millennium on Nov.1, 2006, shortly after the contract was signed. The slot machine referendum was passed by voters on Jan. 29, 2008; another payment of $210,000 was made on February 26, 2008, and one for $250,000 on March 31, 2008. Four days after the final payment was received, documents were filed naming Rivera’s mother, Magarino, a Millennium corporate officer.

Despite his involvement with Flagler and Millennium managing the slots campaign for 16 months, Rivera did not report any income from either organization between 2006 and 2008 on financial disclosure forms filed with the state ethics commission.

Instead, besides his $30,000 stipend received from the state as a member of Florida’s House of Representatives, Rivera claimed to be a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development. In October 2010, the Miami Herald reported that the agency confirmed that Rivera had never worked there. Shortly thereafter, he changed his financial disclosure forms omitting any reference to USAID, after a lawsuit was filed seeking to bar him from running for public office for filing false disclosure forms.

Rivera, Magarino and Medina have all refused to be interviewed by the Miami Herald to discuss whether any of the monies were paid to Rivera, which would be required to be publicly disclosed.

Rivera was elected to Congress on Nov. 2.

The Miami Herald

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Former Florida cop is dumbest bank robber of the year

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You’d think that someone who used to be a cop could do a better job of robbing a bank. Not so for former Hialeah, Florida police officer Rolando Bolanos, who pleaded guilty on Wednesday to strong arm robbery.

Last year, Bolanos, 38, walked into a Bank Atlantic branch and slipped the teller a note demanding cash. After the teller handed over $2,389, Bolanos walked out, hopped in the getaway car and took off. Unfortunately, Bolanos didn’t put too much thought into the robbery.

A bank employee ran outside, and jotted down the license plate number of the car, a black Mercedes, which was registered to Bolanos. The bank’s video surveillance camera captured images of Bolanos’ distinctive wardrobe, which police later matched to clothing that he was wearing in home videos.

Police detectives also immediately suspected the former co-worker because of a distinctive mole on his neck that was described by witnesses. The bank that Bolanos robbed happened to be in the same city in which he was formerly employed.

Phone records also put Bolinas in the exact geographic location of the bank at the time of the robbery, although he tried to create an alibi by calling in a phony tip claiming to be in a distant location. Within 20 minutes of the robbery, Bolanos made a deposit at his own bank for $2,200.

After realizing the evidence was too much to overcome with a jury, Bolanos pleaded guilty and received a one-year jail term. It doesn’t sound like much jail time, but perhaps his father put in a good word for him; dad Rolando Bolanos Sr. was Hialeah’s Police Chief for over 20 years.

The Miami Herald

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