THE RELENTLESS LEGAL WEASEL STRIKES AGAIN
Looking for Quid Pro Quos in Miami Beach
July 15, 2015
By David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach—This Tuesday Breakfast Club meeting promised to be entertaining. A fistfight had nearly broken out at the last commission meeting, I was told, and hostilities would probably be resumed over breakfast at Abuelas Cuban Kitchen.
The honeymoon enjoyed by the majority purchased by City of Miami Beach Mayor Philip “King” Levine, a wealthy propagandist and developer, was coming to an end, or so it was said, on differences of opinion over what constitutes proper political fundraising.
Opposition Commissioner Deede Weithorn had picked a fight with Commissioner Jonah “Legal Weasel” Wolfson, a Levinite, over his new political action committee, Relentless for Progress, which had raised $500,000 from contributors in 30 days.
The PAC was based on the principle of free speech, Mr. Wolfson had said. After all, a PAC funded with unlimited contributions could even provide an opportunity for some poor fool to win office. His PAC, he said, would support statewide causes. The only cause supported thus far is Mayor Levine, a wealthy propagandist, developer, and dear friend to the Clintons, who is setting up the city as the answer to global warming, i.e. a sparkling jewel for Hilary Clinton’s run for the Presidency.
It is rumored that Mr. Levine will be rewarded with an ambassadorship when Hilary takes the White House, a position that he is eminent qualified for as a propagandist who believes that there is nothing wrong with whatever he represents because it is simply great.
Mr. Levine’s faux reform regime has rotated some developers around the trough, reducing the number of bids to those favored for contracts.
Ms. Weithorn, an auditor by profession, had been going over a shit list of contributors into Mr. Wolfson’s PAC, and she thought it smelled really bad. Mr. Wolfson was incensed by the implications when she said everybody should know about the ties between the contributions and contracts let out by the city.
The commission, on the advice of the city attorney that there was insufficient reason to believe anything unethical was going on, voted against having the county ethics commission investigate themselves.
City Manager Jimmy “Nice Guy” Morales, the mayor’s distinguished henchman, was apparently disturbed by some of the apparent conflicts of interest after Ms. Weithorn had made the public fuss, wherefore he had some of the smaller bids trashed.
The Tuesday Breakfast Club meeting was packed but rather reserved. Mr. Wolfson did not show up for the expected shit fight. Despite the criticism of Mr. Levine and his administration, my applause meter registered only 33% against his regime including my own claps.
A couple of people from the city manager’s office were discretely seated within the audience. Former activist Frank Del Vecchio, one of Mr. Levine’s most devoted advisors, was present, frowning all the while, scribbling notes furiously as his lovely wife beamed.
The mayor’s “obscene” propaganda and suppression of dissent was most vehemently objected to by several attendees, one them fervently calling for an election of honest commissioners and the replacement of the current city administration.
Naysayers are ignored, complain the naysayers. The only access that people with constructive criticism have to the mayor is the mayor’s propaganda machine, including a slick commercial paid for by the PAC.
Former Mayor Matti Bower was present. She was urged to speak her mind. She protested vehemently against the death of freedom of speech under the new mayor’s stifling regime. “There is no longer any right to free speech,” she said.
Ms. Weithorn spoke at length about the contributions to Mr. Wolfson’s PAC. The largest item on her shit list was an $118,000 contribution from South Beach Tristar Capital, the developer converting the famous Art Center on Lincoln road to commercial use, and erecting a retail building on the historic community church garden.
A special master ruled that the church deal would have to be reheard by the historic preservation board, which at times seems to be packed with shills for big developers--Jo Manning, a member of that board for many years, has insisted she has never been a shill, and that she wanted the board to rehear the matter. The city and Tristar appealed, however, and a circuit court judge ruled that a deal made with the city trumps the special master, who is not really a judge but is rather an administrative arm of the city administration.
Ms. Weithorn mentioned Mayor Levine’s political consultant, David Custin, and his role in PACS, He was in the audience, she said, and he is certainly knowledgeable about law.
Mr. Custin may be familiar with election laws, yet, if the journalist he threatened has quoted him correctly, he is a moron when it comes to defamation law, for it appears that he does not know the difference between slander and libel, and thinks a journalist may be sued, not for what she says, but what she might say.
I spoke briefly with Ms. Weithorn’s husband, Mark Weithorn, who is running for her seat on the city commission as she runs for his seat in the Florida House of Representatives. The major plank in his platform is dealing with the city’s worsening traffic conditions. That does not include a moratorium on development, a move that would not only curb congestion but contributions from developers.
I told Mr. Weithorn that The Legal Weasel had probably done nothing illegal. My own opinion of him, by the way, is that he is a sleazy politician, and a crafty one at that. Incidentally, I have agreed with many of his positions as commissioner.
Nevertheless, Mr. Weithorn said, Mr. Wolfson may have done something wrong. And to that I responded that an attorney and accountant who used to review my work, and who was familiar with everything Solomon had said, told me that, “If it is legal, it is moral.”
This is no place for a jurisprudential dissertation on the relation between morals and law, Suffice it to say legal sanctions may divest politicians of office, whereas moral sanctions may shame them out of office.
Ms. Weithorn was careful to repeat that she was not claiming Mr. Wolfson et al were doing anything illegal. Still, some of his conduct might be unethical. A man next to me guffawed when she referred to the county ethics commission, and whispered that its director, the state attorney, and the Wolfsons are “the same ball of wax.”
Someone asked if the payoffs came before or after legislative action was taken. Another said that would not matter because contributions are legal unless tied to official decisions.
Man is inherently corrupt. The “sin” originates in an individuality that may naturally be contrary to the public good. Legislated rules of law and ethics are intended to curb corruption in public office; that is, the perversion of its integrity or purity through bribery or favor.
The courts have been rather vague in their definitions of corruption, and have vacillated on the liability for apparent corruption as distinguished from actual corruption. Prosecutors want to see a quid pro quo or an exchange of something for something as evidence of corruption of the political process. We do not have an exhaustive lists of the "somethings." In any case, it is highly unlikely that probable cause will be found that Mr. Wolfson and his colleagues have been corrupted in any formal legal and ethical sense, at least not in this jurisdiction. Still, given human nature, vigilance is the price of freedom. As Adam Smith put it:
“The interest of the dealers in any particular branch of trade or manufacture is always and in some respects different from, and even opposite to that of the public…. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after have been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
QUID QUO PRO IN MIAMI-DADE COUNTY
Another Case of American Sleaze
October 1, 2014
By David Arthur Walters
MIAMI BEACH—Commissioner Jonah Wolfson of the City of Miami Beach in his capacity as campaign manager for his wife Andrea’s judicial campaign reportedly accepted $2,500 in campaign contributions for her campaign from a tow company that did not do business in her circuit but wanted a rate increase in his, an increase that he championed. That was perceived by a reporter as a something-for-something or quid pro quo, a deviation from the public interest, something done for personal gain in his public capacity.
Commissioner Wolfson, a member of The Florida Bar, and a quite clever one at that, did not see it that way. His ridiculous response to the reporter’s question was, “Go f*** yourself!” Of course that is anatomically impossible.
Joe Centorino, Director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, did not see it that way either. I do not know what he saw because he did not bother to respond to my inquiries about the matter. I do know that he does not respond to information received from independent journalists, i.e. opposition journalists, who have questioned his integrity or the exercise of his prosecutorial discretion. Regardless, he is a wise guy, and I treasure some of his thoughts on ethics.
Perhaps he found the howls from the Miami New Times rag personally insulting. After all, both he and Andrea had worked in the office of State Attorney Kathy Rundle, and Andrea had taught ethics to kids at the Ethics Commission where he directed the staff. They are the very personification of integrity.
My guess is that he saw no evidence of a quid pro quo in the information he received, and did not care to investigate the matter to see if some could be found secreted somewhere, like a handwritten contract stating, “Whereas the tow companies want a rate increase in the City of Miami Beach; Whereas Andrea Wolfson, the wife of Jonah Wolfson, a commissioner for the City of Miami Beach, desires bundled contributions for her judicial campaign in a different circuit, where they do not operate; Therefore it is Agreed that Beach Tow will contribute at least $2,000 to her campaign in return for his support of the rate increase.”
Fat chance of finding that! It is not easy to catch someone holding the bag so it can be produced in court as evidence. Sometimes a Cadillac is found in the driveway and cold cash in the freezer in return for specific legislation, but that is rare.
And forget the “appearance of impropriety” that the formerly noble profession of law still refers to on rare occasions, such as when a lawyer is photographed fornicating on the beach. Everybody knows that politicians even if lawyers must either be enormously wealthy or sleazy to win elections where big money pouring into specious advertisements somehow persuades the electorate who is competent to lead them. Welcome to American Sleaze aka the American Way.
What are most campaign contributions for, anyway, if not to buy support for certain causes? Too bad that most politicians are hypocrites, as several studies looking for overall statistical links between contributions and legislation have shown.
Tow company rates were increased over the objections of City Manager Jorge Gonzalez. Sure, his car was towed, but we are with him against the towing mafia! Commissioner Wolfson led the campaign to force Gonzalez to retire immediately, under the pretext that his administration was corrupt. Gonzalez asserted that certain commissioners were actually at the root of the corruption.
Now Andrea Wolfson’s campaign also received contributions bundled by Boucher Brothers, the company holding the city’s beach concession contract. Thanks to Wolfson and his colleagues, Boucher gratefully received a new contract on which they did not have to bid. The rationale was that competitors were not big enough to handle the job, wherefore none of them should get the contract so one of them could become that big.
Here is how that was worked out.
The commission held a special two-day “retreat” over at the W Hotel on South Beach. Such retreats are normally held as general strategy sessions, so the public does not show up. Public notice is given but no agenda is published. Commissioner Wolfson attended the retreat briefly in order to sponsor special legislation, the awarding of a no-bid contract to Boucher Brothers. No other legislation was considered. Wolfson did not disclose the contributions his wife received from Boucher Brothers. The details of the contract were referred to staff. The no-bid contract was slam-dunked at the next regular commission meeting. Gayle Durham wanted to know what the other wives got.
Normally bills have two readings at regular commission hearings. A bill may be voted up or down at the first reading, but ordinarily a proposition if deemed acceptable for consideration is scheduled for the second reading, perhaps referred to staff to work out details in the interim. Here the so-called retreat, a rather casual affair, served as the first reading.
If this case looks fishy, if it looks like the city commission, at Wolfson’s behest, made sure the issue was not fully aired so that it could slip a no-bid contract over the public after the wool was pulled over its eyes, it is fishy indeed, so fishy that it stinks all the way to Denmark.
Someone, perhaps City Manager Gonzalez, tipped off the Ethics Commission on the obvious intention to skirt the Sunshine Act. The ethics investigator, under advice of ethics lawyers, probably including Director Centorino, found no violation in a flagrantly erroneous investigative report, which I have discussed at length elsewhere.
I suspect that Gonzalez was the complainant because he never signed the mandatory recommendation required for the commission to waive bidding before awarding a no-bid contract. The Resolution he signed merely says he “would have” made the recommendation, but he did not make it. He simply bowed to the will of the commission. The Resolution may just as well have read that he would have made the recommendation if he had not felt that the award had been rigged by Commissioner Wolfson in return for campaign contributions made to Judge Wolfson.
Goodbye Gonzalez, hello new regime. People may believe that Wolfson recruited travel media magnate and real estate developer Philip Levine, whose wealth is probably exaggerated at a billion dollars, to take over a million bucks out of his pocket to buy a commission majority led by him as mayor to save the disreputable city from corruption. It is more likely that Levine recruited Wolfson, so Wolfson broke his promise to support former Commission Michael Gongora’s campaign for the mayor’s set.
Not surprisingly, Ethics Commission Director Centorino has not responded to information produced about Boucher Brothers contributions to Judge Wolfson’s campaign. There is nothing unethical in contributing to a judge’s campaign no matter where she will preside. That is not a Cadillac or cold cash in the freezer in return for a fixed case. If her husband had gotten the contributions himself for his own campaign in Miami Beach, his sponsorship of the no-bid contract for the donor would look fishy, but the lawyers at the Ethics Commission would see nothing unethical per se. It is just another case of American Sleaze. If anyone disagrees, I have more than two or three words for them: I have these 1,250 words.