APRIL 21, 2014



Last November I filed an ethics complaint against Joe Centorino, Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.

The complaint had to do with Centorino’s decision on October 10th, to order Sylvia Batista, one of his investigator’s, to conduct an investigation into the Sunshine Law violation alleged by Julio Martinez, a candidate for Mayor of Hialeah, that involved his opponent Carlos Hernandez, the current Mayor along with the members of the Hialeah City Commission meeting secretly in advance of the city’s annual budget meeting.

The date of October 10th was significant, because earlier that same day the members of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust had determined in cases C-13-22 and C-13-25 that:

                “The COE does not have enforcement jurisdiction over

                advisory-board bylaws or the Sunshine Law, but the

                complaint will be referred to the Miami-Dade State

                Attorney’s office, which has the authority to investigate

                Sunshine Law violations.”

Yet that determination by the members of the Commission who are his employers did not deter Centorino from ordering one of his employees to conduct such an investigation - which to no one’s surprise -  resulted in providing the incumbent Mayor Carlos Hernandez and the members of the City Commission a finding that they had not engaged in any violation, all with days to spare before the election.

I alleged in my complaint that Centorino had abused his power and misused public funds in ordering the investigation, which fall under the broad category of “exploitation of official position.”

Two days after I filed my complaint I received an email from Michael Murawski, the Commission’s “Advocate” asking me to withdraw my complaint and file it elsewhere.

I refused his request because to agree to withdraw the complaint was to accept his underlying argument that the members of the Ethics Commission were incapable of demonstrating the integrity or independence required to conduct a fair and impartial investigation involving one of their employees.

If they could not investigate themselves, I felt then, and even more so  now, then what right could they claim to investigate anyone else?

Instead of going forward and dealing with my complaint, Murawski got cute and forwarded it to the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General, who rightfully refused to be drawn into this nonsense and sent my complaint back to the Ethics Commission with this letter.

At last week’s Commission meeting, my complaint was finally heard, and to no one’s surprise, or at least mine, was dismissed for “Lack of Probable Cause.”

Putting aside the whiny ad hominem attack of calling me a “Serial complaint filer and “blogger,” the press release issued by the Commission reiterated the admission that Murawski preferred that someone else conduct the investigation, and that once the Inspector General kicked the ball back in his court, Murawski ON HIS OWN determined that my complaint represented “a personnel issue not properly addressed through the complaint process.”

If you were to go along with this decision, I would argue that Murawski has now developed a new defense against ethics complaints constituting an “exploitation of official position.”  

Public officials and especially employees such as Mr. Centorino, can now argue that the Commission has no authority to rule on these kinds of complaints because whatever they did constituted “a personnel issue not properly addressed through the complaint process.”

What’s good for the goose should certainly be good for the gander, and the Ethics Commission had demonstrated time after time that they will come up with creative, and on occasion original and unique legal interpretations in order to provide cover to the members of the Family and Friends Plan.

The far more important issue involves the actual use of an investigator from the Ethics Commission to “White Wash” the alleged complaint made by Julio Martinez.

On October 31st, Rhonda Sibilia, the Ethics Commission’s Media person responded to my original request for documents that included a very specific request for any documents that revealed that there had been an agreement between the State Attorney’s Office and the Ethics Commission to jointly investigate this case with this response: “There is no document for your #1 request.” 

When I persisted that there must be some documentation somewhere authorizing Ms. Sylvia Batista to investigate an offense that the Commission had  said they were not authorized  to investigate, I received a response from Ms. Sibilia on November 6th that stated:  “There was no written correspondence between Ms. Batista and the SAO “authorizing” her investigation.”

Now this is a significant issue that needs to be clearly understood and I want to belabor the point because I think it is important above and beyond the specifics of this particular incident. 

The Ethics Commission by it’s decision on October 10th acknowledged that, “The COE does not have enforcement jurisdiction over advisory-board bylaws or the Sunshine Law,” and because of that they have no institutional knowledge or experience from which to draw from when it comes to investigating Sunshine Law violations.

So, if you are the State Attorney, with your own investigators why would you want someone without any real knowledge and experience investigating a complicated case that involves a bunch of politicians, several of which were weeks away from election day where they were up for reelection, and all with a vested interest in denying the allegations?

Simple.  What happened here was another example of the Family and Friends Plan at work. The State Attorney’s office didn’t want to get involved in investigating this case for political reasons, and Centorino, having been the dutiful ass kisser and purse holder for State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle for all the years he was in charge of her Public Corruption Unit, took on the illegal task of having his inexperienced investigator conduct a superficial and shoddy investigation as quickly as she could in order to clean up the mess before the election.

Why do I say that?  Two reasons.

First, here are two statements made by Hialeah city employees in the investigative report prepared by Sylvia Batista.



Now these two statements do not necessarily constitute prime facie evidence of wrong doing, but to those with even a modicum of knowledge regarding the finer points of the Sunshine Law, the admissions by Ms. Franco and Ms. Beecher raise questions about what a practice that is known as the “use of nonmembers as liaisons between board members.

This is an issue that has been litigated in cases such as Blackford v. School Bd. of Orange County, 375 So.2d 578 (Fla. 5th DCA 1979, Sentinel Communications Company v. School Board of Osceola County                  C192-0045 (Fla 9th Cir Ct. April 3, 1002),  as well as opined on in AGO 75-59, 89-23 and 97-61.

The basic argument in these cases centers around the use of non board members to act “as a liaison between, or to conduct a de facto board meeting of board members.” In the Sentinel Communications case, the Court said that the law “shall be construed to prohibit the scheduling of a series of such meetings concerning a specific agenda,” and the Court enjoined the School Board and the Superintendent, “from holding any further closed door meetings to formulate Board policy, discuss matters where Board action is “ contemplated, or otherwise conduct the public’s business.”

The descriptions offered by Ms. Franco and Beecher certainly provide enough evidence that activities similar to what the Court described in the Sentinel case might have been occurring, and that instead of  closing the investigation, this was evidence that supported a deeper investigation.

There is no small irony that this kind of behavior is far more common that many people would realize, even including the Ethics Commission itself. 

It was during my first exposure to the antics of the Ethics Commission back in January of 2011, that I got a good look at the level of mendacity and underhanded sleaziness that the Commission members and most especially Michael Murawski were capable of when it came to this same kind of behavior.

In that incident which I detailed in my story CONDUCTING BUSINESS WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE, I wrote how Commission member Judge Seymour Gelber described the activities of Michael Murawski in setting up meetings with each of the Commissioners before the hearing  where the findings of an investigation over the leaked notes that Robert Meyers, then the Executive Director had been writing to his secretary, to bring to their attention “the malcontents” among the staff so as to avoid revealing that information during the public hearing.

You can’t go far without tripping over possible Sunshine Law violations in Miami-Dade County and a skilled investigator along with a State Attorney actually interested in getting to the bottom of this kind of potential violation, would in addition to relying on the self-serving statements made - statements that were not made under oath, thereby allowing the individuals to lie if they chose - consider additional information, such as the fact that following these “individual” meetings of the City Commissioners with the Mayor’s Administrative Assistant, Budget Director and the Mayor himself, the budget when it was presented at the Commission meeting passed with nary a comment or a question.

In addition, to all of this we’re talking about Hialeah here, where Carlos Hernandez, the current Mayor - the same one who benefited from this effort to quash the allegations that he might have engaged in Sunshine Law violations last year - last week was on the witness stand in the federal trail of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina for tax evasion, and where he testified under oath that he lied about his own involvement in loan sharking and his own activities in committing tax evasion.

In the real world, the only people who engage in loan sharking are gangsters and thugs, and Carlos Hernandez’s behavior during his first term as Mayor of Hialeah certainly justifies calling him just that, a gangster AND a thug.

So can anyone with a straight face actually believe that Mayor Carlos Hernandez who runs Hialeah like a Mafia boss runs a crime syndicate really believe that he would shy away from committing Sunshine Law violations every day of the week in order to run the city the way he wants?

You can’t take enough drugs in a year to make this shit up, especially the ass-kissing deference that thugs like this continue to get from the likes of Katherine Fernandez-Rundle and Joe Centorino!

But the best is always the last.

Last November I made a public records request to the State Attorney’s Office for a record search of all the documents related to the Hialeah case.  I received almost 200 pages of documents, including this email.

Nowhere in the 200 pages of documents I received from the State Attorney’s office, nor in any of the documents I received from the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is there a document that reports or details that Hialeah City Commissioner Lourdes Lozano was ever questioned about this explosive allegation.

Why would a guy like Joe Carillo send such an email if he didn’t think the information had some validity?

I contend that this so-called “investigation” only goes to prove that any ethics investigation conducted in Miami-Dade County that isn’t done without subpoenaing witnesses and putting them under oath is nothing more than a circle-jerk waste of time. 

I have repeatedly documented that the subjects and witnesses of these so-called investigations lie, and lie so flagrantly, often, and with the full knowledge that they will get away with it because they know that Joe Centorino built a career in the State Attorney’s Office making sure that the folks on the Family and Friends Plan got a free pass.

Being appointed the Executive Director of the Ethics Commission was not only his reward for those years of ass-kissing, but it was also to insure that someone “safe” was in control at the Ethics Commission to protect those that needed protection.

That’s why I say that this “investigation” was not only “cooked.” but that Joe Centorino, the Executive Director of the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust abused his power and misused public money when he initiated this illegal investigation by an investigator who to be charitable, wouldn’t know a Sunshine Law violation if it bit her in the ass.

This case demonstrated once again that Joe Centorino is in the bag when it comes to providing protection to those in the Family and Friends Plan, and for that he should be fired!



UPDATE: It was pointed out to me after I published this story that I was incorrect in my allegations regarding Joe Centorino’s abuse of power because he has, as the Executive Director, discretion in in allocating staff and resources when it comes to investigations. I would not argue with that.  But his discretion is not limitless, and is restrained by jurisdiction.  That’s the crux of my argument.

The power of government officials is governed by jurisdiction.  In this case, everyone associated with the Ethics Commission conceded that the agency had no jurisdiction to rule on cases involving the Sunshine Law.

When you have no jurisdiction, you cannot claim discretion, and in this case you cannot even claim to be acting on a request by the State Attorney, because as I have established, there are no documents formalizing such a request.