The slap on the wrist outcome July 11 of the Miami Dade Ethics Commission complaint into Chief of Police Orlando Martinez de Castro’s wife’s company’s dealings with the city appeared unsurprising to most observers in the packed hearing room downtown. The chief agreed to pay $2,000 in investigative costs and accepted a letter of instruction. Complaint (C12-31) counts 1, 2, and 3 went uncontested and the fourth was dropped.
There were a few surprises during the proceedings however. City Attorney Thomas Pepe made a last minute appeal to Ethics Advocate Michael Murawski before the meeting to stay their process until the city concluded its own investigation. Chief Martinez de Castro’s attorney Simon T. Steckel also disclosed an apparent pre-existing relationship between Mayor Philip Stoddard and Commissioner Dawn Addy.
“I’m the person that filed this complaint and it wasn’t anybody else,” said Advocate Murawski to the commission and audience as the hearing began. This was in response to comments made from some South Miamians during citizen comment that the entire case was an orchestrated witch hunt by a few dissatisfied commissioners and their friends.
“For whatever reason, the mayor then decided to file his own complaint with the city internal ethics process against the chief, making the same accusations and a few additional ones,” said Murawski. “The town has now come to us asking us to stay our proceedings so that they can finish their proceedings.” Murawski denied Pepe’s request and the board agreed.
“Mr. Pepe knew we were here, he had the opportunity, and failed to appear,” said Vice Chair Nelson Bellido. Mayor Stoddard was also noticeably absent at the hearing.
Chief Martinez de Castro’s attorney Simon T. Steckel called Mayor Stoddard a co-complainant based on the mirrored complaint filed by the city. Steckel requested Commissioner Addy recuse herself from the proceedings to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Addy recused herself in a 2009 ethics case filed by Stoddard against former mayor Horace Fileu because of her pre-existing relationship with fellow FIU employee Stoddard, according to Steckel.
“I have had no discussions with him (Mayor Stoddard),” said Addy in response to Steckel’s request for recusal. “On the contrary at one point his wife got my number and called me and I said I can’t talk to you or I will have to recuse myself. We are on opposite sides of the campus and I haven’t seen him since Ethical Governance Day.”
As the audience chuckled in response, Steckel requested a moment with his client. When the hearing resumed he continued to press Addy to voluntarily abdicate her vote, claiming it was unnecessary for a quorum, and he had a witness who could further testify to the impropriety of Addy voting.
“Ms. Newman (Commissioner Valerie Newman) is present and prepared to testify that the mayor told her he had quote friends on the commission,” said Steckel, “and that he would be happy to speak to her to assist in a resolution of a case (involving Ms. Newman) that came before you in 2010.”
The commission rejected the suggestion. “We have no authority to tell Commissioner Addy what she needs to do,” said Commissioner and Judge Lawrence A. Schwartz. “That is between her and her conscience and we don’t need to hear testimony of anyone else of what might have occurred.”
There were plenty in the audience to provide testimony regarding the year plus investigation into whether or not the South Miami Police Chief knew about the approximately $200 received by Ileana Martinez de Castro’s Airways Auto Tag Agency from the city over several years’ time.
“Do humanity a favor and please do not accept the plea deal and take the chief to trial,” said Commissioner Bob Welsh.
“The only issue here are the personal vendettas against the chief because he does his job correctly and when he does so he might step on some toes of some city officials and their friends,” said former vice mayor Armando Oliveros, Jr.
Thirty year resident Brad Cassel recalled a conversation with the mayor three years ago to extend the chief’s contract. “He pulled me aside and said we must give him a five year contract with no ability to get out of it unless he does something criminal,” said Cassell. “A year and a half into this contract all of a sudden something goes on with the mayor in his life and he feels we have to now fire him.”
SoMi Mag Publisher and resident since 1984 John Edward Smith said “this is nothing but a witch hunt conducted by a few individuals within the city that is ongoing and detrimental to the well-being of our community. It involves the termination of city managers so that the will of the commission to terminate the chief can be affected.”
Vice Mayor Josh Liebman was interviewed by local television news networks Channel 4 and 7 during the commission break. He said he was present to support the chief and bring an end to the unstable culture of South Miami local government which creates a “state of dysfunction.”
Commissioner Valerie Newman, Commissioner Walter Harris, and resident Denise Covington also spoke during the proceedings.
Executive Director of the Miami Dade Ethics Commission Joseph Centorino said in an interview with South Miami News afterwards that the work of the commission was complete and he was satisfied with the outcome.
“Every case is different,” said Centorino. “The process resulted in a finding that he was in violation of three provisions and the appropriate penalty was imposed. We secured a fair and complete outcome within a reasonable period of time.”
When asked about the possible recusal of Commissioner Addy, Centorino said, “The possible conflict was a non-existing issue. It was of no consequence and she voted in favor of the measure.”
As far as the apparent continuing objective of Mayor Stoddard to fire Chief Martinez de Castro, Centorino said “This agency does not get involved in the political squabbles of municipalities and every municipality has them. Even though they would like us to get involved, we don’t do it.”