Audit: Ferré camp broke the law
Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré's 2004 campaign for Miami-Dade County mayor violated state campaign finance laws, a county audit concluded.
BY NOAKI SCHWARTZ
Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré's 2004 campaign for county mayor violated state campaign finance law, according to an audit conducted by the Miami-Dade ethics department.
The audit found that Ferré employed a campaign treasurer who wasn't registered to vote, paid a lobbyist $10,000 from his campaign fund before the fund was officially registered, and paid for palm cards that advertised other candidates -- all violations of state law.
Assistant State Attorney Joseph Centorino said his office's public corruption unit is reviewing the audit, which was released Wednesday.
County auditors had begun reviewing Ferré's fundraising records from last year's race to check on how he used $300,000 in public financing. They found that he hadn't violated any county ordinances, the audit notes.
Ferre's attorney, Joe Geller, said he was pleased that the audit did not find any violations of the public-financing ordinance, and he disputed the audit's other findings.
''We don't believe there were any violations of state law, either, but if there are any further questions we will deal with those in the appropriate form,'' Geller said.
These are not the first fundraising questions raised about Ferré, who was Miami's mayor for 12 years and has run several losing campaigns since.
In 1996, before campaigning for county mayor, he had to pay a 13-year-old fine of $56,037.10 that stemmed from finance-law violations.
In the 2004 elections, County Commission and mayoral candidates were subject to audits because they received public money, totaling $2.58 million. Last year, five of the 12 candidates for mayor received a total of $1.9 million in public aid from the county's Election Campaign Trust Fund. Another seven commission candidates received a total of $675,000.
Some problems cited in the audit of Ferré's campaign were traced to his first treasurer, Antonio Veciana Sr., a Cuban exile leader who co-founded Alpha 66-Second Front of Escambray in Miami in the early 1960s.
Veciana said he quickly signed on as treasurer -- without knowing about a state requirement that treasurers be registered voters. He resigned within days, he said, after telling Ferré he could not vote because he was not a U.S. citizen.
However, even if he were, he would have lost voting rights as a result of a 1974 conviction in New York of conspiring to distribute cocaine. He served time in federal prison.
''I didn't know that he was a convicted felon at the time,'' Ferré said in an interview -- though Veciana's conviction had been reported previously in local media.
Veciana said Wednesday that he is innocent of the audit's accusations. In a written statement, he said he ''did not function as . . . campaign treasurer'' over the short time he had the job.
However, the audit says Veciana received $17,500 that he used to make cash payments to poll workers and to reimburse expenses -- payments that exceed limits set in state law.
The audit also includes a letter the ethics department received from Veciana that purports to have been written by campaign consultant John Bennet, and includes a list of services Bennet provided to the campaign. Bennet later told investigators he did not write the letter and did not know Veciana.
Six days after he signed on, Veciana stepped down. Ferré appointed his son, Antonio Veciana Jr. -- who is a registered voter -- in his place.
Another problem appears to be sloppy bookkeeping.
Ferré's campaign raised a total of $459,117.22 and paid nearly three-quarters of it to consultants who, in turn, bought political advertisements or paid campaign workers, according to the audit. Only the campaign treasurer is supposed to pay for such expenditures -- using checks from the campaign's bank account.
Some of Ferré's consultants paid vendors with their own money, then submitted an invoice to his campaign. In other cases, poll workers and vendors were paid in cash, with no names listed, the audit said.
Volunteers also used campaign funds to pay for $153 in staffers' traffic violations and a $60 zoning violation for putting a campaign sign in the wrong place.