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HOW  A CPA WITH A DODGY PAST AND A PAC HE’S THE TREASURER FOR - FUNDED IN LARGE PART BY FORMER SARNOFF SUPPORTERS - AND THE TANGLED CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THIS CPA, THE STATE ATTORNEY’S OFFICE AND THE DENISE MOON FUND THAT INCLUDES A DONATION TO A FERNANDEZ-RUNDLE PAC THAT NEVER MADE IT ON THE BOOKS. 

PART IX

What if you wanted to give money to a political candidate and didn’t want anyone to know that you did so?


The way the big money donors do it is make the donation to a 501(c)(4) Political Action Committee, better known as a Super PAC, that are only required to report the total amounts of money it collects and spends once a year.


But what if there wasn’t a Super PAC available?


Well, you could give the candidate cash money, because cash money is always valuable to have on hand, especially towards the end of any campaign when “street money” is most needed - “street money” being a euphemism for the money that a lot of campaigns use to pay campaign workers on election day, or to give to voters in poor districts to get them to vote.  I know, you’re shocked to learn that some people actually are given cash money to vote, but it does happen, even in Miami.


Another, and far less frequent way to evade being identified as a campaign donor is if a bunch of like-minded folks donated money to a regular Political Action Committee(PAC), and then that PAC became the front that donated money to either another PAC or to an Electioneering Communications Organization(ECO) supporting a specific candidate. To make sure that no one would learn of this donation, that PAC or ECO in turn could decide not to report the donation.


Unless someone was privy to the original donation having been made, or unless someone by chance stumbled on the records revealing this activity, the failure to report a donation could remain hidden forever, and if it was ever discovered, it could always be explained away as a bookkeeping or paperwork error.


This story will reveal several such bookkeepings errors.


HOW A LOCAL BOY BECOMES AN INSIDE PLAYER


Miami is full of very interesting characters.


Take for instance Joaquin Urquiola. Back in 2005 he was an up-and-coming CPA on his way to becoming a major back-room political player when he, along with Marco Rubio and Rubio’s wife formed the non-profit Floridians For Conservative Leadership In Government, Corp.


The non-profit turned out to be little more than a slush fund that Rubio used to finance a lot of his personal expenses when he was in the Florida House of Representatives, that the Tampa Bay Times would later report was one of two political funds that Rubio created that allowed him to spend “big money with little scrutiny.”


Urquiola was the Treasurer of this fund, and while he received little publicity as the guy who wrote the checks and kept the books, it’s obvious that his check writing skills and political connections caught the eye of folks who are always on the lookout out for smart guys like hime, and it wasn’t long before he landed a spot as an Outside Director at Pacific National Bank on Brickell Avenue, where he was appointed to the bank’s Compliance Committee, and where in 2011, he was tagged by the Comptroller of the Currency, along with the other members of that Compliance Committee for failing to put in place adequate controls to stop the bank from laundering drug money.

While there are still large parts of America where the public knowledge that you were implicated in having any part in helping drug dealers launder money is looked upon with disfavor, in Miami, where streets have been named for major drug dealers, and where the cocaine business has long been accepted as financing a lot of real estate development and contributing to the wealth of people who today populate the local society pages, getting tagged by the Comptroller of the Currency for having played any part in allowing drug dealers to launder money through your bank seems not to have been important enough to report on, because a search of both the Miami Herald and The Miami New Times archives reveals that neither one of these publications seems never having written about Urquiola’s activities, or included his name in any of their stories.

Republic National Bank has had a long history of laundering drug money, and the complaint against Urquiola and the others was a result of their failure to comply with a previous consent decree that the bank had entered into with the Comptroller over the same bad behavior.


In addition to being fined $8,500, this consent order included an interesting provision - one that I’d never seen before - stipulated that even though Urquiola was essentially being given a break, he couldn’t go around afterwards making claims that this case was all bullshit, made up by the government.

In local political circles, Urquiola’s accomplishments including being the treasurer for one of Marco Rubio’s slush funds, followed by his involvement in the Republic Bank’s laundering of drug money, while all the while managing to remain out of the news, showed that he had real potential, and that in turn led to new opportunities, both as a civic leader where he started burnishing his civic image by becoming a member of the Board of Switchboard Miami, but also being tapped to become the Treasurer of not one, but of both of the Electioneering Communications Organizations(ECO’s), created to support Carlos Gimenez’s first run for County Mayor after Carlos Alvarez was voted out of office in a Recall.


In his capacity as the Treasurer for Gimenez’s ECO’s, Urquiola‘s activities got him prominent billing in a complaint filed with the Miami-Dade State Attorney and Miami-Dade Ethics Commission that detailed questionable activities by the Gimenez campaign including allegations of sleazy ROBO calls against his opponent Julio Robaina. 


The Miami Herald reported at the time that this complaint was prepared by Jose “Pepe” Herrera on behalf of Robaina. Herrera was no stranger to the sleazier side of politics having managed to acquire his own sleazy reputation by among other things having been accused of financial wrong doing in the sale of Southwest Towing, formerly owned by his client convicted scammer, schemer and all around scumbag, former Mayor of Sweetwater Manny Morono.


The complaint makes for compelling reading, naming names, providing dates and most of all, detailing the collection and expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars of money collected by Gimenez’s ECO, Common Sense Now..

In an effort to discover what had happened to this complaint after it was received by the State Attorney’s Office, I filed a public records request for either the Close-Out Memo, or “whatever other document might exist that describes how the complaint was handled.”

Like the mysterious disappearance of the “gift list” from inside Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell’s office, the failure of public officials - especially if the documents hold promise of being controversial, embarrassing, or even worse, incriminating - to maintain and protect public records is a bigger problem that most folks would realize.


I can attest that in 2010, my VERY FIRST contact with Fernandez-Rundle’s office was when I went there and hand delivered a public records complaint against Harry Gottlieb to 3 members of the State Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit. 


I not only delivered the complaint, but met with 3 investigators in a room where they treated me like a criminal defendant being questioned instead of a citizen making a complaint about a public records violation. After some time went by without any response, I submitted a public records request like I did with this complaint, asking for the copy of the Close-Out memo that showed what had happened to my complaint, and like this complaint, I was told that there were no documents in the possession of the State Attorney’s Office - not even my original complaint.


Coincidently, in 2012 Gimenez ran for office again, this time for a full 4 year term, and this campaign while lacking in any complaints against Urquiola, turned out to be an even bigger political donnybrook because midway through the campaign, Katherine Fernandez-Rundle had to recuse herself from investigating the allegations that Gimenez’s campaign was involved in what became known as the Daisy Cabrera/Hialeah Absentee Ballot Case when it was revealed that “Cabrera allegedly was selling illegally obtained absentee ballots to Al Lorenzo, Gimenez and Rundle’s campaign advisor.”


The tangled web of political consultants, absentee ballot brokers and back-room shenanigans have long played a part in the outright refusal of the State Attorney’s Office from paying anything but lip service to the electoral corruption that underpins so much of the other political corruption that blankets this community like pot smoke at a party at Snoop Dog’s house.


During those years, Urquiola’s standing in the community only grew as he became the Chairman of Switchboard Miami’s Board of Directors, and participated in the creation of 5 new PAC’s and/or ECO’s.


THE PAC MAN


Two of these new PAC’s and ECO’s that warrant special interest were Truth Is The Mother Of Time, an ECO created in 2013 by former Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, and Progress Miami, a PAC that between November of 2014 and April 30, 2016, collected a total of $129,500 in donations from companies including those owned or controlled by known Sarnoff supporters Tibor, Jerome and Wayne Hollo, Peter Gardner, Gino Falsetto, Barry Rush and Michael Slyder, as well as other companies who had significant property and development interests within District 2 during the time that Sarnoff was a Commissioner.

In 2015, 4 of the first 6 expenditures made by Progress Miami, totaling $20,000, went to a company called RENDERSAFE, who received their mail at a mailbox in a UPS store in Kendall.


RENDERSAFE, was a security company operated by Julio Pinera, who was a former City of Miami police officer before retiring and going to work as a security officer at FP&L, while moonlighting as a private eye on the side.

While it’s interesting to speculate why Progress Miami would need to spend $20,000 on the services of a private eye - especially since he was hired during the time that Teresa Sarnoff, the Commissioner’s wife was running to replace Sarnoff on the Miami City Commission - a far more interesting expenditure was the $100,000 donation made to the ECO, Citizen’s Alliance For Florida’s Economy on November 3, 2015, that was returned on November 30, 2015, after $17,359.78 had been deducted.


The interesting thing about this donation is that the timing coincides not only with the dates of Teresa Sarnoff’s second place finish in the general election - November 3rd - which given that internal polls were calling this outcome a week before the election, which would have prompted Mr. Sarnoff to undertake some immediate steps to be ready for the Runoff, before Mrs Sarnoff saw the writing on the wall and withdrew from the race   - but as I wrote about in an October 24th story about the last minute attack fliers that were sent out by the Committee For Progressive Values Inc., a Tampa ECO who shared a treasurer with Citizen’s Alliance For Florida’s Economy, this sharing of a treasurer pointed to a possible link between these two PAC’s, and the possibility that money had been funneled from one group to the other to cover the costs of these attack fliers, because by the time that the election was over, everyone was claiming not to know who, or how these fliers had come to be financed and/or mailed.


While the deduction of $17,359.78 raises speculation as to whether this might have been the way to distance Sarnoff’s fingerprints on the money that went into paying for the Grace Solares attack fliers, the other three groups that Progress Miami gave a total of $10,000 in donations - highlighted in Yellow - raise even more serious questions, because each of them represent donations that were never declared or reported by the recipient groups as required by law.


Here are the contribution pages for 2 of these 3 groups, and nowhere will you find a donation from Progress Miami on either of them.

I cannot begin to speculate why these two entities decided not to report the Progress Miami donations, and my email to Urquiola asking him to explain any, or all of these issues has gone unanswered.


Clearly however, the donation of money to PAC’s who decide not to report them raises questions about whether this is a problem specific to just these groups or whether this is far more widespread problem that is merely exposed by these examples.


Could there be a widespread effort to shuffle money around between PAC’s and/or ECO’s based on the expectation that the odds of them getting caught are at best slim if not none, and I think one that warrants the Florida Elections Commission to look into, with, or without a specific complaint being filed by a private citizen.


The third of these PAC’s who received a donation from Progress Miami and failed to report it however, is like the porridge at the house of the Three Bears that Goldilocks finds the most tasty.


Citizens For Justice PC, was formed by Robert D. Hertzberg, Loretta Fabricant, Christian Ulvert and Benedict “Ben” Kuehne, and the purpose of this County PAC was to support the candidacy of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle.


Ulvert is known to readers of the Crespogram because he is a Democratic political operative who was Grace Solares’ campaign manager in her unsuccessful effort last year against Teresa Sarnoff.


Ulvert has had his own interesting history with PAC’s and ECO’s, having served as the Chairman, Treasurer AND Registered Agent of 5 political action committees, including 3 Committee’s Of Continuing Existence who were closed, or their status was revoked, for a failure to submit paperwork, like Floridians for Accountability and Justice, a PAC that collected and funneled most of the $134,650.00 it collected in donations to either the Democratic Party, or his political consulting firm, Edge Communications.


Kuehne is the well known criminal attorney who is also known to Crespogram readers as a result of his representation of Miami City Commissioner Frank Carollo against the ethics complaint I filed against him for “Exploitation of His Official Position,” when I reported that he called the Chief of Police on his cellphone after he was stopped for a routine traffic violation. Carollo eventually agreed to a “no contest” plea and paid a $1000 fine and another $1404.12 in costs.

From the beginning, the creation of this PAC was curious because by the time that it was formed in March of this year, it was already evident that Fernandez-Rundle would not have any challengers - which in fact is what happened.


So why form a PAC when there is no opponent?


More curious yet was why would Progress Miami decide to donate $2,500, and then that donation not be reported?


I asked Ms. Fabricant, the PAC’s treasurer that question in an email, but like almost everyone I ask questions related to anything having to do with Fernandez-Rundle, she refused to respond.


So what we end up with is that Progress Miami may, or may not be a convenient parking place for some of the money that former Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff collected in recent years for political favors, or it maybe it’s a vehicle for it’s mysterious Chairman, a fellow named Christopher T. Harris, who doesn’t seem to have an independent identity other than his name on the documents that created this PAC, or it could all be controlled by Joaquin Urquiola, who in addition to writing $20,000 in checks to pay for a private eye to do whatever private eye’s do for $20,000, might have had the latitude to make donations to causes and candidates of his choosing.


Giving the way that politics is played in Miami-Dade County, giving money to support Katherine Fernandez-Rundle - even if she didn’t need it - is certainly one thing that Urquiola might believe to be a good investment, given that he is once again the treasurer for a Carlos Gimenez’s  campaign PAC.


This one is called, Miami-Dade Residents First, and if past performance can be considered prologue, Urquiola might end up needing to make sure his standing in the Katherine Fernandez-Rundle Family and Friends Plan  is up-to-date given that the race for Mayor between Gimenez and Raquel Regalado might get really nasty in the next few months, especially if Gimenez doesn’t win by 50% plus one in August,


Then again, during the last few years Urquiola’s civic standing in the community was enhanced by his becoming the Chairman of the Board for Switchboard Miami, a worthy group always in need of community support.


In 2014 and 2015, his last two years as Chairman, Switchboard Miami for the first time received money from the Denise Moon Memorial Fund, totaling $111,750.00.


Now, in no way am I implying that there was anything questionable about them receiving this money, and in fact I was surprised that they hadn’t received any money from the Denise Moon Memorial Fund until 2014, although the list of the 2016 Denise Moon Memorial Fund recipients once again does not include Switchboard Miami.


At the end of the day we’ll probably never learn just why Progress Miami decided to give a $2,500 donation to Citizens For Justice PC, or why they in turn decided not to report that donation, but the one thing that we can never discount in Miami is how 2 degrees of separation is considered an appropriate distance to maintain when showing politicians some love for all that they do, and how important these PAC’s, ECO and CCE are in providing cover for those wishing to minimize the possibility of being caught in the same metaphorical room with the people they’re showering with love.


It/s Miami, Bitches!


                                                    NOTE

I am deeply appreciative to the Crespogram reader who made me aware of the connections between Progress Miami and the other PAC’s who received, but did not reported the donations.  I rely on my readers for not only providing me with valuable tips and insights, but also for their intelligence and skills in being able to connect the dots. I could not do what I do without the help of people who care about their community, and who sometimes do so at considerable personal risk.  THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

(C) COPYRIGHTED 2016

Nor was the State Attorney’s Office the one one incapable of explaining what they had done with this complaint from Jose “Pepe” Herrera.  The Miami-Dade Ethics Commission was also clueless of what had happened to their copy.