DECEMBER 9, 2013


A couple weeks ago I did a story about the abandoned house above, and one of the issues that I cited was the fact that the property had been the subject of 25 separate Code Violations, many of them involving fines and liens placed against the property.

It isn’t necessarily a puzzlement how so many Code Violations could be lodged against a property with nothing of consequence being done - I had after all been involved in the placement of 6 Code Violations being lodged against Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff for operating an illegal law firm out of one of his houses in Coconut Grove with little being done - but this story led to a chance encounter and discussion with someone knowledgable on the possibility that the City of Miami had failed to collect millions of dollars in fines levied against property owners over the years.

When I first heard about these millions in uncollected fines I found it difficult to believe that given the dire financial situation that the Regalado administration found itself during the first three years, they hadn’t gone after this money with a vengence.

At the same time, this is the same incompetent administration that had gone through 4 City Managers, several Chief Financial Officers as well as several Finance and Budget Directors and a sizable departure of people bailing out of the Finance Departent in order to avoid being part of the wholesale incompetence that reigned supreme during Regalado’s first term.

The gross incompetence of the Regalado administration’s financial management of the city can best be summed up by a revelation in an August 8th Miami Herald article on the hiring of several former county employees to take over the city’s budget operations.

Here is the relevant portion of that article.

‘Wow,’ indeed!

Appreciate that before Alfonso arrived, the city had been paying Larry Spring, Janice Learned, Pete Chircut, Diana Gomez, Stephen Petty and Mirtha Dzedzic a combined total of close to $400,000 a year to manage the city’s finances.

What the taxpayers got for this money was a group of morons who spent more time trying to figure out where to hide money, move it around in shady ways, or use city funds to placate the political demands of the Mayor - never forget that Larry Spring and Diana Gomez were both involved in the efforts to bribe former Chief of Police Exposito - so that by the time that Alfonso arrived, you can just about suspect that if this damning explanation of what he found is just what he was willing to say publicly.  You can imagine what he really found, and what he might, under oath, or after a few drinks be willing to say privately about the financial operation of the city under the Regalado administration.

In any event, my curosity was whetted about the issue of unpaid Code Enforcement fines, and so I set about trying to pry documents from the Finance Department to see if these claims were true.

It wasn’t easy, and after several weeks, and more than a little bit of rope-a-dope and refusal to respond to questions and/or to provide documents, I finally got a 93 page report that listed all of the unpaid liens owed the city.

The report covers the period from October 1, 2002 to May  7, 2013.  Here it is.

You have to appreciate several things in looking over this document.  First, the list goes back to October 1, 2002, which means that it covers the entire 8 years of Manny Diaz’s term as Mayor. 

Now, I’m sure that there are millions of unpaid fines that go back further than October 1, 2002, but I suspect that the main reason the Regalado folks decided on this date was as a way to tie this problem to “Manny Diaz.”

Putting the blame on “Manny Diaz” has always been the fall back strategy for Regalado, and in this case it has some merit because for 8 long years Diaz did his best to be in the pocket of developers, including giving them as many breaks as he could when it came to paying impact fees and the like, and consequently many of the problems that the city is just now beginning to realize exist, are due to the decisions made during Diaz’s 8 years as Mayor.

None-the-less, this report also includes the first 3 1/2 years of the Regalado administration, where little if nothing was accomplished to undo this problem, even after the decision was finally made to hire a collection agency to go after the debts.  

There are a number of questions and documents that I asked for in an effort to get a fuller understanding of this problem, but other than the above document and a set of the city’s Applied Receipts Registers which actually turned out to be a treasure trove for another unrelated story, the city’s Finance Department refused to answer questions, or provide any documents that explain just how they are attempting to collect any of these unpaid fines.

Specifically, the Finance Department refused to provide me with any documents related how much money the Penn Credit Coillection Company, which the City entered into an contract with at the beginning of the 2012 fiscal year, has actually collected, or any documentation on how many individuals and companies they have turned over to Penn Credit Collection for collection?

$7,445,800.00 is not chump change, and for a city that has suffered the kinds of financial ups-and-downs that Miami has suffered over the last 4 years, the failure of the Finance Department to either have, or be willing to provide this kind of specific information on the efforts to recover this money just makes you wonder if what is going on inside the Finance Department now is just another “Wow”  moment.

Lastly, the $7445,800.00 is what was owed the city as of May 7, 2013.  This is now December 9, 2013, and you can bet that for every dollar that might have been collected since May, a lot more dollars are now owed to the city, because...

It’s Miami, Bitches!



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