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When we last left CPA Joaquin Urquiola, I speculated that we might hear from him again because he had recently signed on to be the Treasurer for County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s latest campaign PAC, and given his past performance as the Treasurer for Gimenez’s previous PAC’s, he might get caught engaging in some more hanky-panky like he had during the 2011 campaign.


Well, a couple days after I posted my story last week, I got an email from a regular Crespogram reader - I’m proud and pleased to have a small but dedicated core of readers who often follow up on the stories I write looking for more information - who sent me an email that included a copy a settlement agreement between Urquiola and the Florida Elections Commission that had been finalized on May 18, 2016.


Yeah, that’s right, a month before my original story.


It seems that on top of all the things that I had written about in my original story about Urquiola, he had, in 2014, become the campaign treasurer for Judge Rodney “Rod” Smith, and in that capacity he had failed to file an amended 2014 Termination Report, after being notified that the report was incomplete,” and he also failed to “report contributions on Judge Smith’s 2014, P3 and 2014 P6 Reports.”


The Elections Commission fined him $750.00.


Now mind you, these aren’t high crimes and misdemeanors, but they are none-the-less serious because, as I pointed out in my first story about this guy, the efforts to hide political contributions, whether in money transfers between PAC’s or just from a candidate’s campaign finance report is a conscious effort to keep the public in the dark about who, and more importantly, how much money is being given to a particular political campaign, or even more revealing, how these candidates and their campaigns spend money. Since money is the mother’s milk of politics, that information is always important.


The other thing - in fact there are several other things - starting with just what do the staid and supposedly button-downed partners at Goldstein Schechter Koch, the Coral Gables and Fort Lauderdale CPA firm think about their partner and his continuing antics, and secondly, what does it say about the politicians who decide that Urquiola is just the guy they need to keep their campaign accounts?


Well, it turns out one of those political candidates was Circuit Court Judge Rodney “Rod” Smith, and it doesn’t say much good about the judge. 


HERE COME THE JUDGE, HERE COME THE JUDGE


PART I  - CAMPAIGN DONATIONS


Judge Rodney Smith is often praised as an example of a kid from Liberty City who through grit and gumption managed to make something of himself. 


However, as smart as everyone thinks he is, the Judge, like so many other folks who seem to acquire a sense of entitlement as soon as their lips attach themselves to the public tit, figured that all the campaign cash he collected entitled him to spend some of that money in ways that the law says he couldn’t, and then, by having a CPA like Urquiola keeping his books, when he got caught, he blamed Urquiola.  Sometimes there is poetic justice in the world.


Here’s what the records reveals happened. 


When the judge filed his papers to run for reelection in August of 2013, he appointed himself as his campaign treasurer. Ten days later, he changed his mind and appointed a guy named Hector Lombana as his treasurer.  


Lombana served as the Judge’s campaign treasurer until August 14, 2014, when he resigned in protest to the activities of a PAC specifically formed to promote Judge Smith and another incumbent judge, funded by a company called United Auto Insurance. 


This was no regular insurance company, and the money funding the PAC came exclusively from United Auto Insurance and its subsifiaries. It’s never a good sign when a private company ponies up over $300,000 to finance a PAC, especially when it involves supporting only two judges.  I will be dealing with all of this further down.  For now though, let’s focus on the Judge’s misuse of his campaign funds.

On September 8, 2014, The judge filed the form appointing Joaquin Urquiola as his new campaign treasurer, effective September 21st.

By the time this change of treasurer’s had occurred, the Judge’s campaign and the Florida Elections Commission had become true-blue pen pals.

I know that I upset some folks when I use profanity, but you really got to be a major fuck-up as a candidate to generate a list of correspondence this long between your campaign and the Florida Election’s Commission, especially since 2 of these items involve findings of misbehavior by the Commission.


But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Between August 14th and November 18, 2014, the Judge managed to go through $12,031.79 of “improper or incorrect expenditures” that included the him taking road trips to Warrenville, Illinois; San Ramon, California; Findlay, Ohio; Huston, Texas; Irving, Texas; Dallas, Texas and Boca Raton, Florida. He also ate well, spending a total of $1159.77 at AROMI, a chi-chi restaurant on Miami Beach.


It was these expenditures, along with others that ended up getting him and Joaquin Urquiola charged by the Florida Election Commission with campaign fund violations.

The first person tagged by the Elections Commission for these campaign violations was the Judge, but he was quick to lay the blame off on his “campaign treasurer,“ and so even though the hearing officer fined him $1150 for supposedly being ultimately responsible for his campaign account, the Judge appealed, and the members of the Elections Commission, by a vote of 5 to 3, voted to waive the fine.


They didn’t dismiss the complaint however, so even though the Judge might today want to claim that he didn’t do anything wrong, the Final Order is clear in stating that, “Respondent’s claim that he took all reasonable steps to ensure his report was timely filed but do to an error by his campaign treasurer his report was not timely filed does not justify the Respondent’s failure to timely file the report.” (My emphasis.)

When it became Urquiola’s turn, he wasn’t so lucky. If, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, than Urquiola’s decision to step in late in the game and take over the treasurer responsibilities for the Judge, was evidence to believe that sometimes there is something called Karma.

There is no small irony is that Joaquin Urquiola became involved with the Judge because his previous campaign treasurer resigned in protest over the creation of a PAC to support both Judge Smith and Judge Nuria Saenz, accused by some in the legal community of being in the pocket of this insurance company.


PART II - THE POLITICS OF CAR INSURANCE IN SOUTH FLORIDA


South Florida has the highest car insurance rates in Florida, and many folks, even including some personal injury lawyers have accused United Automobile Insurance Company of being a principal reason for that problem. Among the actions they cite is the decision by United Auto to never settle claims, but instead to go to court and litigate  every case, and secondly that they spend gobs of money in an effort to buy politicians and judges.


And example of that is the money that United Auto Insurance donated to the Governor’s political committee in March of 2012, and reported by Marc Caputo, then with the Miami Herald.

A LARGER, MORE READABLE VERSION OF THIS LIST CAN BE VIEWED BY CLICKING HEREBREAKDOWN_OF_MISPENT_MONEY.htmlBREAKDOWN_OF_MISPENT_MONEY.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

When in July of 2012, the Governor appointed Smith to finish out the term of Circuit Court Judge Scott Silverman, there was speculation that he did this as a pay back favor to United Auto Insurance, because Smith had previously represented United Auto Insurance in a number of cases.


Scott recently appointed Kelley Eckley, a former General Counsel for United Auto Insurance as a County Court judge in Jacksonville last April, and while it would be a stretch to claim that this demonstrates that either United Auto Insurance is an excellent training ground for judges, or that perhaps the Governor has developed a special relationship with United Auto Insurance that includes appointing attorneys who do work for them to vacant court seats, there are concerns that Scott has appointed some individuals to County Court vacancies who are considered friends of the auto insurance industry because County Court’s are where car insurance companies litigate most of their cases.


It was Smith’s prior representation of United Auto Insurance that prompted personal injury lawyer Christian Carrazana to run against him, and that in turn prompted the law firm he worked for, Panter, Panter & Sampedro PA to fire him.


Smith supporters jumped into the fight by claiming that Carrazana was just an ethnic carpet bagger running on the strength of his Cuban surname. All this played out in the comments section of the Justice Building Blog, including the revelation that United Auto Insurance had created a PAC specifically to promote the candidacy of Smith and one of his fellow Judges, Nuria Saenz.


The controversy was serious enough that David Ovalle of the Miami Herald wrote a story about it on August 19, 2014.  Here is a portion of that story.

Ovalle was premature in his claim that United Auto had spent $227,000 in their efforts to promote Scott and Saenz. They actually ended up spending $313,859.29. Here are the list of contributors, and who got paid to to the promoting.

The lion’s share of the money spent went to G & R Strategies, which is a company owned by Sasha Tirador, who according to blogger Elaine de Valle, is better known in Hialeah political circles as the Absentee Ballot Queen. In fact, Tirador and her antics seem to have been one of de Valle’s favorite subjects, as you can see HERE.


Tirador collected a total of $255,088 to promote these two judges, and in the process she also managed to be accused by two campaign workers she employed to wear Tee Shirts promoting the candidates while standing outside of the John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah as to having welshed on their deal after one of the workers, Reinaldo Varela, supposedly sat down under a tree to rest. Brenda  Medina of the Miami Herald wrote the story.


The $160,345.34 that the Judge raised on his own, combined with the $313,859 that United Auto poured into their PAC, overwhelmed the paltry $24,950 that his opponent Christian Carrazana raised, and democracy once again did what it normally does in these kinds of situations where money talks, and bullshit walks: Rodney Smith was reelected to the bench.


Had the judge not misspent his campaign money, all of this would have sunk into the ooze that swallows up so many scandals and examples of bad political behavior in Miami-Dade County.


While the Miami Herald covered the election issues involving the judge, as soon as the election was over, so did their attention span. They never covered any of the post election issues including the election violations, or the judge’s being charged with campaign finance violation,, nor more importantly did they even think about assigning an intern to go digging into all the court cases involving United Auto Insurance to see whether Judges Smith and Judge Saenz made decisions that benefited United Automobile Insurance, because if in fact those allegations were true, then that’s a really big story, especially since we in South Florida consistently pay the highest car insurance rates in the state,


Every year the Miami Herald cherry picks one story that they decide to devote time and resources to, as much for the possibility that it might make them contenders for a Pulitzer, as much as for the benefits to the community.


Those stories involve going after bureaucrats in state agencies like Children’s Services and the State Prison System - both of which they should be commended for doing so - but at the same time, they’ve not shown any such interest in digging into anything involving local elected officials - especially judges - in a long, long time.


I get calls all the time about the Court Ad-Litem program in Miami-Dade, and if that program is even half as bad as the callers claim it is, then this too is definitely a part of the court system that warrants looking into.


Auto insurance rates, especially in South Florida,are among the highest in the country, and allegations of the kind made during Judge Smith’s campaign warranted the Miami Herald to go looking into and not just wait until the next election to see if United Auto Insurance still wants to put money in another PAC to support these judges again.


When an auto insurance company spends $313,859 to support the election of 2 specific judges, that should set off alarm bells, even in Miami-Dade County.


It’s Miami, Bitches!


THIS IS THE END OF PART X

(C) COPYRIGHTED 2016

CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE RODNEY “ROD” SMITH SEEMED TO HAVE NO PROBLEM IN TREATING HIS CAMPAIGN DONATIONS AS PETTY CASH, AND WHEN HE GOT CAUGHT, HE BLAMED IT ON HIS CPA, JOAQUIN URQUIOLA - IT’S A SPECIAL, MIAMI, BITCHES KIND OF STORY

PART X