Miami’s new public corruption squad flexed its first muscles Thursday with the announcement of eight arrests, including three police officers and a city administrator in a crackdown the mayor said would end Miami’s “culture of corruption.” Yet the significance of the crackdown came under immediate question.
In unusually strong language, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle questioned some of the arrests — saying Miami did not turn to her office in one case and that prosecutors had declined to bring charges in another. Then early Thursday evening, she sent a terse note to Miami’s mayor, city manager and police chief that questioned them for moving forward on two of the arrests.
“I am sure that you all know very well that based on the evidence presented to my prosecutors and their analysis of the law there is no state criminal charge that can be filed,” Fernández Rundle said.
Countered Miami Police Commander Delrish Moss: “We stand behind what we said at the press conference. We stand behind the arrests that we made.”
Miami’s arrests included people from two nonprofit agencies that received city funding, three officers charged with official misconduct and other crimes and a city administrator accused of using city workers to upgrade his home. The arrests came as the city also announced the firing of several department directors.
In one of the nonprofit cases, involving a youth rehabilitation program called The Alternative Programs, Miami police say two counselors, Johnnie Brown and Vincent Cobham, took $450 to falsify paperwork that showed they met the court mandate for monitoring requirements.
Cobham is the grandson of one of Miami’s oldest and most influential activists, Georgia Ayers, who founded and runs the program.
But Fernández Rundle said her office had reviewed the case previously — and declined to bring charges.
“With respect to the Alternative Program case, Joe Centorino, head of the public corruption unit, and [prosecutor] Johnette Hardiman were very clear that there was not a state crime that could be prosecuted,” she said.
In the other nonprofit case, involving Vecinos en Accion — or Neighbors in Action — President Laura R. Gonzalez and husband Fernando Gonzalez, the treasurer, are alleged to have taken $250 from an informant to falsify paperwork saying court-ordered community service hours had been completed.
“As far as we can tell, no one from the City of Miami spoke to anyone in our corruption office about the Neighbors in Action case,” Fernández Rundle said.
The Gonzalezes, plus Brown and Cobham, were all booked into Miami-Dade jails under state criminal case numbers, records show.
Asked at a press conference at police headquarters if the state attorney had signed off on all the arrests, Police Chief Miguel Exposito said everything was done to the letter of the law.
“These cases were made lawfully,” said Exposito. “The arrest warrants were signed by a judge. And yes, we did follow the protocol.”
The only warrants signed by a judge involved the arrests of 8-year Miami police officer David Valentin and 16-year veteran Daniel Fernandez. Both were charged with official misconduct and theft. Valentin had an additional charge of perjury.
The duo are alleged to have used their positions to bully a tenant out of an apartment they managed. The officers run a company called Land Trading Property Management, which oversees an apartment complex at 225 NW 16 St.