FBI Investigates Hialeah City Hall For Corruption
BOB LOWE Herald Staff Writer
The FBI is investigating allegations of widespread corruption in Hialeah's city government.
Hialeah City Hall sources confirmed that FBI agents have begun interviews concerning bribery allegations contained in a series of articles published in The Miami Herald last week.
The series, Hialeah: Zoned for Profit, detailed numerous allegations of bribery, conflicts of interest and the trading of votes for favorable business deals. The series also reported that Hialeah officials admit to violating Florida's Sunshine Law by meeting in private.
The FBI has jurisdiction over bribery and extortion cases involving public officials.
Meanwhile, the Dade state attorney's office won't say whether it will actively investigate allegations of impropriety in Hialeah.
"We are in the process of reviewing the information in The Miami Herald's articles to determine if there are violations of the law," said chief investigator Ray Havens. "If there are violations of Florida statutes, we will take action."
Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez has dismissed the reports of wrongdoing as unsubstantiated "allegations and innuendos." He says that city officials mentioned in The Herald's articles will be exonerated.
The Herald's series cited examples of apparent conflicts of interest in which Hialeah officials voted for rezonings when they, their relatives or employers had an interest in the outcome.
In Florida, conflicts of interest are considered violations of civil rather than criminal law.
The state Commission on Ethics, which is charged with investigating conflicts of interest, said it would not investigate The Herald's findings unless it receives formal complaints.
Executive director Larry Gonzalez said state law allows the
commission to investigate only after someone completes a complaint form that identifies a specific public official, the laws he supposedly violated and the factual circumstances surrounding the alleged violation.
Gonzalez said that a complaint must be based on the complainant's "knowledge and belief" that a violation has occurred. He said, though, that knowledge of a violation can come through newspaper articles.
"The Ethics Commission would accept complaints based on information reported in a newspaper," said Gonzalez, who is based in Tallahassee.
The commission also investigates allegations that public officials have misused their positions to "corruptly" benefit themselves or others, or that an official has solicited anything of value in exchange for an official act.
Violations of the state code of ethics are punishable by sanctions ranging from forfeiture of office and fines to restitution of illegally obtained benefits.