HOW KATHERINE FERNANDEZ-RUNDLE DECIDED THAT EXTORTING ILLEGAL “DONATIONS” FROM THE DEFENDANTS ASSIGNED TO THE ADVOCATE PROGRAM AND COURT OPTIONS AS A WAY TO FUND THE DENISE MOON MEMORIAL FUND WAS

A GOOD IDEA

PART V

In September of 2007, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle entered into an agreement with the then Dade Community Foundation - now the Miami Foundation - to create a “donor advised fund” in the name of Denise Moon, a popular, long-time employee at the SAO who had died of breast cancer. The fund was called The Denise Moon Memorial Fund. (You can read a copy of the donor advised agreement, HERE.)


The purpose of the fund was to collect and distribute money for,


        “charitable purposes including but not limited to the provision

        of assistance and support to victims of crime and their family

        members and the furtherance of educational, rehabilitative

        and related efforts regarding crime prevention, advocacy,

        public safety or justice...”


Like any charitable undertaking, the biggest problem that Fernandez-Rundle faced was raising money, although as I revealed in my recent story about her $2.6 million dollar Safer and Healthier Fund, also housed within the Miami Foundation, she seems to have an ability to tap into a secret group of folks and organizations in this community with deep pockets who are willing to donate to her charitable efforts. The operative words here are secret and money.


The VERY FIRST donation made to the Denise Moon Memorial Fund came from the now defunct brokerage firm Morgan Keegan & Company, a company that had a long list of unsavory and/or illegal activities leading to numerous SEC, state and federal investigations.


Katherine’s Fernandez-Rundle’s willingness to accept money from people with questionable or criminal backgrounds that one wouldn’t normally expect to find snuggling up next to a State Attorney has become such scandal that on Wednesday, CBS’s reporter Jim Defede grilled her about the revelation that one of the hosts of her latest campaign fundraiser was none other than Hialeah’s loan shaking Mayor Carlos Hernandez. You can see that interview HERE

While donations from deep pocket pals looking to have a State Attorney as their “friend” is one way to raise money for good works, Fernandez-Rundle, decided in this case that she wanted to raise really serious money for this venture, and to do that she turned to the two companies for whom she had done so many favors: The Advocate Program and Court Option.


On September 21, 2007, Patrick Trese, then Chief of the County Court Division of the State Attorney’s Office, sent a 3 page memo to The Advocate Program and Court Options informing them that from that point  on they would be required to collect “donations from all of their clients as a condition of their participation in their Pre-Trial Diversion programs,” and that that money was be paid into the Denise Moon Memorial Fund. (You can read the complete memo HERE.)

It didn’t take long for the money to start rolling in.  From 2007 thru 2015, the Denise Moon Memorial Fund received a total of $4,600,692.00 in “donations” from the clients of The Advocate Program and Court Options. Since then that amount has risen to over $5 million dollars.


In what appears to have been a decision to minimize the attention that these “donations” might spark, neither the fact that “donations” would be required, nor the amounts that the defendants would be required to give were revealed as part of the spiel that the County Court Judges gave to them when they appeared before the Court for arraignment. They were only told that the cost for the pretrial diversion program was a one-time payment of $250.00.


The application forms the defendants were required to fill out in the court room also failed to include any mention of a “donation” to the Denise Moon Memorial Fund.

When it comes to cases where defendants agree to enter into a pretrial diversion program, they only appear before a judge for arraignment, and therefore, if they successfully complete the program, they would never appear before a judge for sentencing.


A review of Chapter 27, of Florida Statutes, which governs the creation and operation of the State Attorney Offices in Florida also failed to provide any language that would authorize a State Attorney in Florida to impose the collection of “donations” by any of its service providers.


In addition to the lack of statutory authority to allow the imposition of “donations,” a review of the Miami-Dade Clerk of Court’s Fee Schedule page also failed to include any mention of the requirement for “donations” to be collected related to any criminal justice matter.


So at both the State and County level there was neither a Florida Statute, or a County Commission Ordinance allowing a State Attorney to include, as part of any contract with a service provider, the imposition of “donations” as a condition for participation in their program.


COURT OPTIONS CLIENTS ALSO WANTED PROOF


In May of 2013, an employee of Court Options sent the following email to Ramon Crego, who at the time was the Assistant Chief of the D.U.I. and misdemeanor crimes division from 2012-2014..

The money collected during the years 2008 thru 2015 went to the Miami Foundation where supposedly the staff of the foundation were the ones who selected the 61 civic or social service groups in Miami-Dade County, who received portions of this money in the form of grants. 


While almost all of these groups provide worthwhile services to the community, many of them coincidently were also either agencies who housed their own fund raising activities within the Miami Foundation, or they had powerful and influential members of the community on their board of directors, who on more than a few instances over the years had fed Fernandez-Rundle’s insatiable vanity and need for attention by giving her awards, free tickets and other signs to show their appreciation for her support of their programs.


EVEN THE STATE ATTORNEY MUST FOLLOW THE LAW


When I uncovered all these “donations,” and got copies of the Miami Foundation’s records - yes, there are ways to get the records of supposedly impenetrable community foundations, think of it as a combination of a domestic version of The Panama Papers and a persistent use of pubic records requests - I immediately set out to determine whether there was any statutory authority to establish that what Fernandez-Rundle was doing was legal.


I reviewed Chapters 938, 939 and 948 of the Florida Statutes that governs all Pretrial Diversion, Court Costs and Probation Community Control in Florida, and that authorizes the creation and operation of private companies to provide those services, including the setting of fees.


None of them included any reference to the authorization for the collection of “donations” to do good works, regardless of how worthy the recipient organization might be.


There is one specific statute that explains how a judge could impose a “donation” as part of sentence, but that procedure requires an “oral pronouncement at sentencing and includes the terms and conditions in the written sentencing order.”


The problem here however, is that a judge can do this only in the sentencing portion of the case, and for only one criminal defendant at a time, and not wholesale the process through some Court Order. 

It was only after these folks showed up at the offices of one of these agencies that they were told that they were required to make a “donation” to the Denise Moon Memorial Fund, and that the amount would be determined by the amount assigned to the various crimes on the list put together by the State Attorney’s Office.

Prior to sending that email, Court Options had, and still includes this explanation on their website as to who authorized the collection of these donations on the page devoted to FAQ.

When are my program fees and donation due? What forms of payment are accepted?

Program fees are due within 30 days of your intake date. The court ordered donation to the Denise Moon Fund is due within 60 days. Both fees should be paid though Court Options. We accept cash, credit cards, personal checks and money orders which should be made payable to Court Options.

Clearly there is an contradiction between saying that they are collecting these donations because they are mandated by a court order, and then writing the State Attorney’s Office to ask if they have any “form of official document” they can provide to show to their clients who are rightly balking at making these “donation.”


It would have been interesting to learn what the State Attorney’s answer to this request was, but unfortunately, this was the first of my public requests and questions that George Romagosa at Court Options refused to respond to.


But it actually gets worse.


Not only were they forcing defendants to make “donation” in order to go through the Pretrial Diversion Program, but in 2013, as part of the language in misdemeanor pretrial diversion services contract there was insert in the fee section which stated that money collected from these defendants to pay restitution costs, could also be diverted to the Denise Moon Memorial Fund.

On April 18th, having received no response - not even an acknowledgement that my request had been received, which is a common courtesy that most public officials provide to those making public records requests - I hand delivered the following letter to the Office of Judge Bertila Soto, the Chief Judge for the 11th Judicial District.

As of today, I have received NO response from the Chief Judge, not even an acknowledgement from her office that my letters were received by her office and the Office of Legal Counsel.


This is serious problem that goes beyond a refusal to either provide or deny the existence of the documents because this is the CHIEF JUDGE OF THE 11TH CIRCUIT, who by her actions is willfully refusing to obey Florida’s Public Records Law.


WHEN THE CHIEF JUDGE BEHAVES LIKE THIS, WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE DO YOU THINK IT SENDS TO ALL OF THE OTHER JUDGES, AND ALL OF THE PUBLIC OFFICIALS WHO ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR WAYS TO EVADE AND DENY PEOPLE LIKE ACCESS TO PUBLIC RECORDS?


Lastly, to make absolutely sure that my allegations that Fernandez-Rundle’s instructions The Advocate Program and Court Options were not supported by any applicable statutory authority, I sent the following letter to her, David McGriff of The Advocate Program and George Romagosa of Court Options asking them to provide me ANY evidence or reason that I might be wrong in my assumptions.

(C) COPYRIGHTED 2016

Again, as of this morning, I have yet to receive a response from any of these individuals.


I cannot speak for the State Attorney, or the other two individuals involved, but I can speak for myself and I know and think that I can speak for many of you who are reading this, to say that if you got a letter like the one above,  and you had the evidence to prove that the allegations in the letter were wrong, I or you would have packaged that information up with a big bow, sent it off with a message saying, “Hey, guess what moron, you’re wrong, and here’s my proof!!!!!”


I made my first request to Fernandez, Rundle on April 12th for evidence that what she was doing was legal, and she’s had the above letter since April 21th, more than enough time to sent me an email that says, Here’s the Florida statute, the County Ordinance, or the Court Order that allows me to collect money for the Denise Moon Memorial Fund through donations levied on the defendants who go through the pretrial program


SHE HASN’T!


At the end of the day, my allegations, or any self-serving comments by Fernandez-Rundle and/or her staff about all the good works and community support that has occurred because of this money mean absolutely nothing. 


The only thing that matters is whether she can produce a Florida Statute, A County Ordinance, or a Court Order that she can claim provided her the legal authority do do what she did.


If she can’t, then what she’s done is criminal, because the Miami-Dade County State Attorney cannot, on her own, just go out and demand that companies who are providing her with pretrial diversion services turn around and demand that the individuals who enroll in those services must donate money to a private charity she created.


None of us could do that and neither can she!


THIS IS THE END OF PART V

Again, Romagosa refused to respond.


I then decided that on the off chance that there was a Court Order, I sent several requests to the office of the 11th Judicial Circuit Legal Counsel.  This was my last one.

I also wrote Romagosa and McGriff, asking them if they had transferred restitution money to the Denise Moon Memorial Fund, and if they had, to provide me the amount of money that had been transferred.


David McGriff sent me this response.

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