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Ted Mannelli, who holds the ambiguous title of Executive Director of the State Attorney’s Office, and who has been described to me as the most powerful person inside the State Attorney’s Office that no one knows about, captured perfectly the “cover your ass” attitude inside the office, where the first and foremost goal of senior staff is to make sure that when the choice is between protecting the public or protecting the image of the office reflected through the cult of personality that has grown around Katherine  Fernandez-Rundle, he chose to express concern for the office.


In addition to sharing concerns about the volume of files that Court Options was requesting, concern must have been expressed about how much restitution money Court Options had collected, because on May 1st, following an additional string of emails between George Romagosa and the staff of the SAO, he sent them an email detailing the amount of restitution money Court Options had collected from 2008 thru 2011.

As part of their RFP proposal for the pretrial diversion contract in the early part of 2013, Court Options put their success “in locating victims for restitution approximately 90% of the time,” which seems improbable given they were still rooting through files in an effort to obtain correct addresses so as to disperse these restitution monies. (90% rate, Court Options 1-2, Page 34)


The Advocate Program on the other hand offered no information on monies paid to victims of restitution as part of their RFP proposal, and in fact provided no information on how much restitution they collected, choosing to lump that amount in with court costs, donations, cost recovery and cost of prosecution. (Advocate Program 1-1, Bottom Page 83)


It was evident however, both from the above documents as well as from tax returns and other documents and emails that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution money sat in bank accounts drawing interest because of the failure of these companies to properly capture the victim’s information during the intake process.


YOU’RE UNDER ARREST. WHAT FOR? YOU’VE GOT AN OUTSTANDING BENCH WARRANT


In addition to the failure to adequately keep track of the information required to make restitution payments, an even worse problem was the discovery that some of the “clients” of these programs were being falsely arrested after they completed the programs because the companies failed to complete the paperwork required to close out their cases.

Last year, approximately 50,000 people went through the 11th Judicial Circuit’s County Courts which handles the county’s misdemeanor criminal cases.


Unlike Circuit Court, where there are always criminal cases attracting the attention of the news media, few people, including the media seldom if ever go near County Court to report on cases of shoplifting, petty theft, battery, loitering and all the other petty crimes that are overwhelmingly committed by poor people, often against other poor people.


Spending a day in a county courtroom can cause you to curse, laugh, wonder about the future of the gene pool, despair at how poorly our society is being served by the educational system, and worst of all, realize that what often takes place in these courtrooms is not so much justice, or anything resembling justice as much as it resembles a grinding conveyor belt whose principal goal, other than keeping the bodies and paperwork flowing, is generating “clients” for companies like The Advocate Program and Court Options.


It’s an assembly line process where defendants are encouraged to choose pretrial diversion over entering a formal plea, especially if they are illegal immigrants, because as they are often informed in a no nonsense manner, the alternative to signing up for a pretrial diversion program, can lead to deportation.


Given the number of individuals that go through these programs on an annual basis there are bound to be numerous complaints about the delivery of service, and there were no shortage of complaints once I started digging around and talking with court regulars, including attorneys.


I chose to limit my investigation to complaints dealing with process, because process for me has always been easier to try and explain, and  process usually starts with an effort to acquire basic numbers, which for this story meant how many of those individuals who went through the court system ended up being directed to one program or the other. That was an important first set of numbers for me to try and find out.


I figured the best way to get those numbers would be to submit a public records request to the State Attorney’s Office(SAO), because as the contractor of record for The Advocate Program and Court Options they would have been the logical recipient of annual reports from these service providers. Annual reports I believed, would provide the kinds of statistical information I was looking for.


I came to that conclusion based on information that Court Options included in their 2013 RFP proposal for the Misdemeanor Pretrial Diversion contract that was the basis for Part III of this series, as well as a copy of an 18 Month Report that they had submitted to the State Attorney’s Office on their Traffic Diversion Program, revealing that in fact, they did provide the SAO with these kinds of reports.

As part of my request I went to the trouble to include the above Traffic Diversion Program page so as to demonstrate that I was already in possession of at least one of the documents that I was requesting, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to claim that they had no such documents.


It didn’t matter. This is the response I received to my public records request.

In short, I never got any reports from the State Attorney’s Office.


Lying about the existence of public records - especially records that are already in the public domain because they are perceived as possible sources of embarrassing or incriminating information, while at the same time wanting to charge me a Special Service Fee to provide what would only have been incomplete monthly or weekly reports, is just one of the hurdles that I and others face constantly when it comes to trying to get copies of documents after it dawns on public officials that those documents might provide embarrassing or incriminating information.


Catching the State Attorney’s Office engaging in this kind of flagrant violation of the public records law however, was not only a MasterCard Moment, but provided another example, in the growing list of examples, of the wanton and wholesale violations of Florida’s Public Records Law that has emboldened officials in cities like Miami to abuse the law, because they know that the State Attorney’s Office will never prosecute them for doing what her office own office does.


The fortunate thing about what I do is that I usually have collected so many documents related to the big stories that I work on that if I need to make a change in direction because I hit a dead end, I only need to grab whatever stack of documents is closest to my computer and chances are I’ll come up with another set of documents that often are juicer than the ones I was hoping to obtain.  This was the case when the State Attorney’s Office told me they didn’t have any annual reports.


WE DON’T WANT TO BE PERCEIVED AS NOT BEING HELPFUL


The Advocate Program has been providing pretrial diversion and probation services for 38 years, and Court Options has been providing some of these same services for 12 years.


Together these two companies provide ALL of the pretrial diversion and probation services for the 11th Judicial Circuit and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, and during that time they’ve had tens of thousands of “clients” go through their programs who have paid upwards of $100 to $125 million dollars in various fees and donations in order to complete one of these programs.


During this same time, neither of these programs has ever been subjected to a program evaluation or audit by an independent, outside company or government agency.


Neither of these programs has never been subjected to a program evaluation or audit by an independent, outside company or government agency including the Miami-Dade Clerk of Court’s Office, the County’s Audit and Management Department, the Miami-Dade Inspector General’s Office, and especially from an outside private company.


You can read the responses that I received from all of these agencies and government offices to the question of evaluations and audits HERE.


In Part II of this series which dealt with one of several contracts awarded to The Advocate Program, I focused on a letter written by a gentlemen named Anthony Lopez, the owner of Metro Traffic Safety Institute, whose company had an openly hostile relationship with The Advocate Program, and who had been behind efforts in 2007 and 2012 to derail the efforts of The Advocate Program to complete for the probation and pretrial diversion services contracts.


Disgruntled business competitors are nothing new, and even in a city where the news media wasn’t as lazy and/or in the pocket of powerful politicians as the media in Miami is, the odds of any reporter making a serious effort to look into Lopez’s allegations of mismanagement by The Advocate Program were probably slim to none.


But had a reporter done so, or better yet, had anyone within the County, like the Office Of Inspector General been requested to conduct an investigation to look at Lopez’s claims, they might have decided that perhaps his claims were not so far fetched.


Lopez made 6 specific allegations of mismanagement in his letter.  Here is his second claim.


        On page 25, letter G, the contract says “Priority shall be placed probationer’s timely payment of restitution. This

      is not happening.  i have heard many complaints on this subject throughout the years.  I don’t ask you to take my

      word for it. Perhaps some type of study could be conducted.  The Help Me Howard report to follow is simply one recent example to the problem.” (While the video link to the Help

      Me Howard story has been disconnected, the transcript of

      the story, that includes the fact that the story was about an Advocate Program client can be read HERE)


Payment of restitution is a contract deliverable, and  the failure to maintain proper records, or the failure to provide these payments to the victims of crimes would certainly raise concerns in any program evaluation, had one ever been conducted on either of these programs.


Although Lopez’s compliant was about The Advocate Program’s problems with restitution payments, Court Options was also bound to the same terms and conditions when it came to collecting and disbursing restitution payments by their clients, and they too had shown a failure to keep adequate records.


In March of 2012, during roughly the same time period that Lopez was meeting and writing to Assistant Procurement Director Miriam Singer, several employees in the State Attorney’s Office were also writing emails to each other and their boss, Ted Mannelli, sharing serious concerns over the failure of Court Options to properly maintain their restitution records.

The Advocate Program also, according to the SAO, failed to provide annual reports and went further than Court Options by also failing to provide information on restitution payments, an issue that I will be addressing further down in this story.

These arrests again, were the result of a massive failure on the part of The Advocate Program, and to a lesser degree, Court Options’ to adequately manage their case files.


In Part III, I introduced an affidavit that the Miami Dade Community Services (MDCS), one of the companies who had lost out in the effort to win a portion of the Misdemeanor Diversion Contract had hoped to include as part of the Protest that they lodged in an effort to have the selection process for the misdemeanor diversion services contract overturned.


The affidavit was rejected by the Hearing Master, because he claimed, it  would have required him “to draw conclusions as to whether the individual members contemplated the incumbents current operations and why members of the Selection Committee scored a particular bidder a certain way,” something he did not want to do. (Bottom of Page 3)


You would think that contemplating “the incumbent’s current operations” would be among the first things that both the County’s Procurement Department and the Selection Committee would have wanted to consider before deciding which companies merited a portion of a new $30 million dollar contract, because as in so many other endeavors, past behavior  can be a prologue to the future.


I am reintroducing this affidavit because of its relevance to the question of competency and management by The Advocate Program and Court Options in allowing “thousands of cases to linger in interim deposition,” which in turn created the problem of having an unspecified number of individuals arrested on bench warrants after they thought they had successfully completed the program because their cases had not be properly closed out.


The portion of the affidavit that reveals that problem is highlighted.

This problem it turned out, was not just a recent one.  On the morning she notified the senior staff of the State Attorney’s Office of “one more defendant arrested,” she also sent an email to the Advocate Program informing them that they has cases that had not been properly been closed out going all the way back to 1999.

For Court Options, the problems of mismanaging their records and trying to have the State Attorney’s employees do the work that they should have been doing didn’t seem to get in the way of George Romagosa’s continuing efforts to increase his share of business, as evidenced by this email where he wrote Don Horn trying to find out whether Fernandez-Rundle had approved giving Court Options more courtrooms for their Back On Track driving program.  During that time he also continued trying to persuade the State Attorney’s Office to approve a program expansion for repeat marijuana users.

Twenty one months later, I made my own request for Reyes emails along with the portion of these emails that Reyes said she exchanged with Joseph Mansfield, because Mansfield had been directed by Fernandez-Rundle to inform Administrative Judge Sam Slom about the problems associated with the thousands of “interim disposition” files. This is the response I received from the State Attorney’s Office.

Whether the complete collection of Reyes emails and documents still exist, or were destroyed, is something that we’ll probably never learn, but the odds are that whatever information they contained would probably have provided even more damning evidence of not only the gross incompetence leading to “thousands of cases” being mishandled, along with the “hundreds of cases” that were completely ignored by these two companies, but also information about the cozy relationship that existed between certain County Court judges, the State Attorney’s Office and The Advocate Program.


AN UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE OF BEING THE CAPITAL OF SOUTH AMERICA


One of the things that people talk about in Miami a lot is that there seem to be a lot of people who drive around town with suspended licenses. 


In the last 6 years I’ve written stories about Miami Mayor’s daughter and current candidate for County Mayor, Raquel Regalado, and her suspended license problems, as well as former MPA Executive Advisor, Kira Grossman,  and her multiple license suspensions, and then of course the revelation that Angel Zayon, had his own license suspension as part of his own long list of traffic violations.


Because there is definitely a problem with folks driving around with suspended licenses, the State Attorney’s Office, came up with a Traffic Diversion Program to solve it.


Folks who got arrested for driving with a Suspended License could enroll in the Traffic Diversion program, pay their participation fee, look at a video, use the competition certificate from the program to get their driver’s license’s reinstated, and get their charges lowered.


That was all good, unless of course you were an illegal alien, and incapable of getting your driver’s license reinstated because you didn’t have a driver’s license to begin with.


Hey, it’s Miami, and those folks too were persuaded that that would not be a problem. 


Those folks, when they showed up in Traffic Court also got the option to go through the program, even though in their case, being enrolled in the program was essentially a hustle to take their money because no matter what they did they couldn’t get a license 


I was told by numerous people including public defenders, private attorneys and others with knowledge of this hustle that the State’s Attorney’s Office was put on notice that this was at best highly unethical and probably illegal, and so I tried to confirm the participation of Court Options in this scheme, because I was told they were the principal program operating this hustle.

THE FAILURE OF THE ADVOCATE PROGRAM AND COURT OPTIONS TO PAY THE RESTITUTION MONEY OWED TO VICTIMS OF CRIME AS WELL AS THEIR FAILURE TO PROPERLY CLOSE OUT CASES RESULTED IN THE RE-ARREST OF CLIENTS WHO HAD COMPLETED THESE PROGRAMS

PART IV

The amount collected in 2011 was $801,618.51, making a grand total of $2,840,149.60, as the total amount of restitution monies collected by Court Options between 2008-2011. While his email focused on the monies collected, Romagosa failed to provide information on the amount of monies that actually reached the intended victims during that same period, although the email below indicates that at one point in February of 2012, Court Options was holding $225,000.00 just in felony restitution money because of their inability to “obtain current victim information.”

Romagosa, refused to respond, just like he failed to respond to all of my public records requests and questions regarding the operation of Court Options.


Between Romagosa’s refusal to respond, and the State Attorney’s Office refusal to turn over any annual reports I have no way to know how wide-spread this practice of hustling illegal aliens to go through a program intended to give them the opportunity to get their nonexistent driver’s license reinstated was, or continues to be, and more importantly, how much money was made from this hustle.


You can bet though, the money collected wasn’t chump change.


At every step of the process, folks who pass through the Miami-Dade Misdemeanor Court System are sitting ducks to be hustled by the system. In tomorrow’s final segment, I will reveal the biggest hustle of all, only it wasn’t a hustle,  it’s more an out-and-out  organized criminal conspiracy.


THIS IS THE END OF PART IV

Romagosa’s invoking superior performance was a constant refrain in his never ending quest to increase market share, regardless of how incompetently they actually managed their company.


ANOTHER PUBLC RECORDS ROADBLOCK


As revealing as the above emails are in showing that these problems had most likely been allowed to fester for so long in large part because of a failure of proper oversight and program auditing over the decades, the fact of the matter is that the 6 Reyes emails that State Attorney’s Office finally turned over, were but a small part of a larger collection of emails that the State Attorney’s Office for over two years has refused to release.


In Reyes’ affidavit, she stated that she had exchanged emails with Don Horn, Joseph Mansfield, Ted Mannelli, as well as the representatives of The Advocate Program and Court Options.


Below is a public records request made in February of 2014, by the attorney representing Miami Dade Community Services, the company who filed the bid protest, as part of his efforts to get copies of the emails referenced in the affidavit.


I’ve also highlighted one of the sets of emails requested that go to the allegations raised in Part II of this series by Anthony Lopez that a handful of county court judges, starting with Chief Administrative Judge Sam Slom, were alleged to be providing protection for this program.

(C) COPYRIGHTED 2016