News: An Appearance of Impropriety

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The situation at the decrepit property located at 1020 6th Street in South Beach, a few paces from the new shopping center, had become scandalous, thanks to Juan Luis Maldonado, Jr., the owner of record, Bank of America, the mortgagor, the Compliance Division of the City of Miami Beach, which had literally permitted the property to go to hell, and the City Manager’s office, which obviously fails to oversee its various departments in several respects.

At one time the historic building had been boarded up and the property was protected by a fence, but the fence had been removed and the historic building was surrounded by mountains of trash, junk and garbage. The property had become home to vagrants, derelicts, and, at one time, several crack dealers led by a woman who had previously lived in and worked out of a car in front of the bodega around the corner on Michigan Avenue. (she had been seen on the property sporting a roll of cash shortly before she moved into a studio at 626 Euclid Avenue, where she ran a casino frequently by undocumented workers)

I was approaching the 1020 6th Street property on my way home from Publix when I overheard three men sitting on the steps of the decrepit building, drinking beers and talking about pulling shoppers back along the side of the building to mug them. One of the men, knowing that I had overheard the conversation, got up and accosted me, with his hand in his back pocket as if he had a weapon, but the other men called him off. That was the last straw for me. I called the police.

Not only were neighborhood residents outraged by conditions at 1020 6th Street, so were Sanitation Department workers, who complained that this was not the only building in Miami Beach virtually ignored by the Compliance Division while adjacent and nearby properties were cited for minor violations. They said they would gladly clean up the big messes, but to do that they had to have a “take-with” order, and none were forthcoming on some of the worst cases around town including this one.

Email from the Sanitation Department to the top three staff members at Compliance had been to no avail in respect to 1020 6th Street. Speculative rumors of corruption at Compliance were circulating among city employees. To wit, invoices for clean-ups and liens for violations were allegedly being held back so deals could be made with property owners and developers at the right moment.

I suspected corruption was at play but was not so sure since previously, I had conducted an investigation of Compliance’s irregular signage and sidewalk café ordinance enforcement along Washington Avenue. I concluded that the irregular enforcement might have been due to random rather than selective enforcement. One thing I did learn from that investigation is that Compliance is not very proactive, but if you complain long enough and loud enough to the supervisor, George Castell, if you can get through to him, some enforcement will eventually get done. Sending in photographs of blatant violations will not suffice: a formal complaint must be made.

I received an email from a source that claimed to have proof that Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez is aware of the alleged corruption, and the source promised to send it along to me, but did not do so after I alerted the Miami Beach Police Department and the State Attorney’s office in Miami about my suspicions that some probable cause to proceed might be found if the matter were investigated.

I asked Fernandez if she was aware of any such corruption and if she had discussed the matter with the police department. She did not respond to those questions.

Neither did she respond to my query concerning the disposition of an April 20, 2011, 14-day Notice of Fire Violations, issued by the Fire Department and posted on the building, over the signature of David Mogen, Division of Fire Prevention, File F111001974. The notice stated that, if the violations were not remedied in time, a fine of $1,000 per day or $5,000 per day for repeat offenders would be imposed. The record I found on the property indicated that Mr. Maldonado was a repeat offender, at least in respect to the Building Department.

Curiously, the Fire Department notice was removed from the building on or about December 30, 2011, shortly after I alerted the City to the situation. I also noted that a previously open door had been re-boarded up. There should also have been a fire lien filed that should exceed the recently listed sales price of $250,000. I was informed that once the amount of a lien exceeds half the FMV, a property may be foreclosed on.

I checked with the clerk that handles Special Master’s Cases for the Fire Department and Code Compliance. As of January 5, 2012, there were no pending fire violations before the Special Master. But she did find a Code Compliance violation under Special Master case number JC11000294. The violation cited was a “closed building case,” recorded as a lien against the property. The fine was $100/day beginning May 10, 2011, with a cap of $20,000, reached on November 26, 2011.

The clerk also saw the other liens that had been recorded: on May 19, 2009, a lien in the amount of $1,084.38 was filed against the property, Book 26915 Page 1952; on July 8, 2011, a lien in the amount of $3,846.03 was filed on the property for boarding by the Building Department, Book 27749 Page 1580. I found no lien satisfactions filed with the county clerk for those liens, so how could the record be clear except for the Compliance lien of $20,000?

As for the fire lien that should have been filed, it would have totaled nearly $240,000 by the end of 2011: what happened? Why was the 14-day notice removed from the door two days after I contacted the city about the property? Why does there now seem to be no record of the file? Has title already passed on the property, so that it is too late to file the lien so the city can recover from the nuisance?

Once again, Fernandez did not respond to my questions regarding the absence of liens and the appearance of impropriety, so I contacted a few Miami Beach Commissioners. They did not respond either.

To her credit, Fernandez had the property cleaned up pronto. Several men were sent in with a couple of trucks and a small crane to load heavy items. They did a bang-up job of it. One of them said it was a shame Compliance had neglected the property so long. Notice of Violation and Fine CE 12003540 dated January 12, 2012 was tacked to the door. No one can tell, given past conduct, whether the city will bill the owner and/or the mortgagor for the cleanup and place a lien on the property for the amount due.

The mortgagor tacked another notice to the door, besides the one it had put there months ago, saying it considered the place abandoned and therefore intended to maintain it. Yeah, right. The fence has not been replaced. The vagrants, derelicts, bums and drunks are trickling back. Trash is beginning to accumulate.

People stop and stare and wonder. What will happen? Will someone be mugged? Will a homeless person be raped or knifed? Will there be another fire, like the ones that occurred around Collins Park? Do city officials let these things go as opportunities for bribery? Or is this downright negligence? Who knows? The city does not respond.

About David Arthur Walters

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