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CRESPOGRAM REPORT

JULY 15, 2013

SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG HERE
THE ETHICS COMMISSION NEEDS TO BE INDEPENDENTLY INVESTIGATED FOR ETHICS VIOLATIONS

Let’s put aside for the moment the adversarial relationship that I have with the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission, where they think I’m an insufferable asshole, and I think they’re a bunch of arrogant and unethical political hacks.


Regardless of what we think of each other, there are far larger issues here that affect the community as a whole when it comes to what is going on inside the Ethics Commission nowadays, and it should concern the members of the Miami-Dade County Commission, who created and fund this agency.


Last week’s public hearing on the case against South Miami Chief of Police Orlando Martinez de Castro, provided perhaps the clearest opportunity yet to witness just how selective the Commission behaves in applying and enforcing the ethics laws when it comes to someone who can aptly be considered to be part of what has become commonly known locally as a member of the “Family and Friends Plan.”


South Miami Chief of Police Orlando Martinez de Castro was accused of having his department do business with a License Tag agency owned and operated by his wife, located 11 miles outside of the boundaries of South Miami.


Here is the portion of the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission ordinance that deals with this violation.

After an investigation, it was determined that the Police Department did do business with the Chief’s wife.


But it was after reaching this determination where everything went veering off into crazy town when the decision was made by Michael Murawski, the Ethics Commission’s Advocate (Prosecutor) to forgo a hearing to determine whether the Chief had acted “willfully” in steering the city’s business to his wife’s auto tag agency.


Included in an article written by two of the Miami Herald’s newest, and brightest young reporters after last week’s hearing was the revelation that the Ethics Commission had in their possession a memorandum written by a former member of the police department that detailed how he had been the one who raised the issue of using the wife’s auto tag agency to get titles for cars forfeited to the department.


    “Murawski’s memo presents an interview with Lt. Dan

    Salerno (now retired from the police department) who

    asked De Castro in 2011 whether his wife could help

    obtain titles for vehicles forfeited to police after being

    used in felonies.  Salerno said that the chief answered

    “yes” and gave Salerno his wife’s phone number.


     Salerno was taken aback when he was advised that

    De Castro claimed to have no knowledge of Airway’s

    business transactions with the city,” the memo states.”


In addition, last month, after the Ethics Commission failed to deal with this case because of a lack of quorum, I wrote about the decision to forgo the decision to establish the Chief’s culpability by quoting Murawski who tried to justify his action by saying:


        “So if we went to a public hearing, it would be long,

        it would be arduous, I’m sure I’d win in the end, but,

        ah, I don’t think that the public is served by dragging

        this process out any further, I’m willing to go along

        with a settlement if you are...”


I first raised the question of who on the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission is looking out for the public’s interest two months ago in response to another case where the Commission allowed a 2nd rehearing for Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff to argue against the Commission including the words “Probable Cause” in their Letter Of Instruction, and pointed out then that Murawski and the Commission’s behavior was biased and not in the public’s interest.


Shortly after thi Ethics Complaint against the Chief was filed, the City of South Miami initiated their own ethics complaint against the Chief, and subsequently asked the Ethics Commission to step back until after the City had had an opportunity to act first. The Chief after all, was their employee.


Mr. Murawski, with the concurrence of his boss, Joe Centorino, the Commission’s Executive Director refused to honor the city’s request, and at the meeting last week the members of the Commission sided with him, using as their excuse the fact the the South Miami City Attorney did not show up to argue on behalf of his letter asking them not to go forward.


At the end of the day however, the issue to focus on is how the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission chose to deal with the “willful” provision of their own ordinance on the prohibition of public employees doing business with family members.


Below is the portion of the videotape of last week’s meeting where Mr. Murawski describes his decision to forgo an investigation to determine whether the Chief acted willfully in referring a member of his department to his wife’s business.

The determination that the Chief’s police department had done business with his wife’s company, and the existence of a Memorandum that spelled out the Chief’s personal involvement in this activity placed an obligation and responsibility on the Commission to determine whether the Chief had acted willfully.


Yet, Murawski, as seen in the tape, states, “I don’t think we need to go that far,” without providing any substantive or compelling evidence why the Ethics Commission should not  “go that far.”


WHY NOT?


Equally telling was the fact that not one of the Commissioners in attendance sought to question Murawski’s decision by challenging his reasoning in reaching this decision.


The only justifiable way that the Commission members could reach a decision on this question would have been after a discussion on what Murawski’s  reasons were, and whether or not those reasons were in the best interests of the citizens of South Miami and of Miami-Dade County.


Unfortunately, the Ethics Commission has a documented history of failing to question and/or act in the best interests of the citizens in cases where the accused can readily be identified as members in good standing of the “Family and Friends Plan.”


This was just another, and more brazen example of that practice.


Even more disturbing, and certainly a surprisingly telling moment that went by without comment was when Murawski revealed that he, along with Chief Martinez de Castro’s attorneys - he had two attorneys present at this hearing - held several private meetings with Ethics Commission Chairman Copeland on this case, and then as you can see and hear on the video tape, he nonchalantly says to the other Commissioners, “I don’t know if he shared with you all?”


Shared what? Obviously the contents of those private discussions.


This raises both a very troubling question of Murawski’s grasp of Florida’s Sunshine Law, and worse, the distinct possibility that private meetings between attorneys appearing before the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission are held with the Chairman, and then he shares the contents of these meetings with the other members in their own private meetings, all outside of the Sunshine and therefore all flagrantly illegal. 


That’s the only way that the contents of the meetings between Murawski, Copeland and Martinez de Castro’s attorneys could have been “shared,” since there hasn’t been a pubic meeting on this case since May.


Murawski’s off-the-cuff comment is extremely troubling because I do not believe was it was just an innocent slip of the tongue. It’s not the kind of comment that would ever be uttered if there wasn’t a knowledge or expectation of this kind of behavior actually occurring.


From the revelations two years ago that Ethics Commissioner Kerry Rosenthal illegally served as the Chairman of this organization for 11 years;  to the behavior of former Executive Director Robert Meyers and his “wear something nice” lunch notes to his secretary; to the selective method in which investigations have been conducted and Memorandums written absolving favored elected officials of culpability in violating the ethics law to the recent example of the Commission allowing a Miami City Commissioner to seek 2 rehearings to argue of the inclusion of language that would have stated that there was “Probable Cause” in the final Letter Of Instruction, when this was clearly an issue that should have gone directly to the 3rd District Court of Appeals if the Commissioner wanted to appeal the Commission’s actions; to now the refusal to conduct a hearing to determine whether Chief of Police Martinez de Castro “willfully” knew and engaged in actions that led to his police department doing business with his wife’s business all point to a very disturbing pattern of behavior that supports the claim that what is going on inside the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission is neither ethical, or being done on behalf of the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County.


I believe that the Miami-Dade County Commission needs to step up and do whatever it takes to conduct an independent investigation into the behavior of the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission for the betterment of the community and the citizens of Miami-Dade County.


It’s definitely Miami, Bitches!

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