AUGUST 8, 2016
Starting bright and early on Monday morning and through the day, Raquel Regalado made her way from radio show to radio show to TV show attempting to defend herself against the letter sent to her by the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser notifying her that she owed $3,981,23..
On the radio shows, among the first things she complained about the story I posted on Friday was the fact that I had gotten a copy of the letter before she received the letters through the mail.
I'm happy that she's chosen to raise that argument because it allows me to address a persistent bugaboo that I, and others have about the lack of knowledge by public officials like Regalado when it comes to knowing or obeying Florida's Public Records Law, and perhaps in the process I can also provide some helpful information to both members of the news media and you, my readers - although if you're a regular Crespogram reader you've probably read my previous efforts to educate public officials on what the law says and requires, and not on what they want to believe or do on any given day - about what the law actually says and allows when it comes to obtaining public records.
So, let's begin.
Last Thursday afternoon I went to the County Building, took an elevator to the 7th floor where the Property Appraiser's Office is, and told the receptionist that I wanted to speak to someone that dealt with Homestead Exemption Fraud. I identified myself not only by name, but also that I was a blogger.
The young lady called someone, explained who I was and what I wanted, and was told that someone would come and talk to me.
I waited a few minutes, and a woman came out, introduced herself, and escorted me to a small meeting room. As I sat down the lady's boss came in and introduced himself, and they both sat down.
The gentleman's name was Michael Postell, who's title is Senior Property Appraiser Supervisor. I apologize that I don't have the woman's name, but if I hadn't gotten Postell's card, I probably would have remembered his name. My excuse is I'm getting old.
Anyhow, I told them my name, that I was a blogger that wrote about public corruption in Miami, and that in mid-July I had written a story about Raquel Regalado and Gema Pampin, and explained the allegations that I had made regarding them both having committed Homestead Exemption Fraud.
I then told them the reason I was there was that, the day after I had written that story I had called the Property Appraiser's Office and spoken to someone in an effort to learn whether any kind of investigation had, or was being conducted on either Ms. Regalado or Ms. Pampin.
I was told that none was, and I followed by stating that I would like to request that such an investigation be opened.
If you click HERE, you'll see that I had updated my story with the information that there was no investigation being conducted on Pampin.
On Thursday morning, I called the Property Appraiser's Office to inquire whether any investigation had been conducted since my first call, and I talked to a nice woman who told me that it looked like there had been one, but I wasn't able to download the file she said was available on-line.
That's why I physically went to the Property Appraiser's office, and that's why I asked Postell if in fact he had any documents. He asked his aide to go and look, and she returned a few minutes later with some of the documents that I posted last Friday. Specifically he showed me the investigative reports on both Regalado and Pampin, and the copy of the letter that their office had sent Pampin several days before notifying her that she owed money for unpaid taxes.
He explained to me that the reason that they hadn't sent Regalado a similar letter was that their records indicated that she no longer owned property that could be attached by a lien - which is what the Property Appraiser's office does if folks fail to comply with the initial letter and pay the unpaid taxes.
I then told him that Regalado did own property, and explained that her father, Tomas Regalado had Quit Claimed his house to Raquel and her brother Jose in 2015.
The aide left the room to check their records, and returned with a printout of the record that verified my information. Postell, then said that he would follow up by writing and sending a letter to Raquel Regalado the next day.
That was it. Before I left I asked for copies of the investigative reports and the letter that they had sent Gema Pampin, and they gave them to me.
The next morning, when I went to scan the documents so I could include them in my story, I realized that I did not have a copy of Regalado's investigative report, and sent Postel the following email.
I received an email from Postell at 2:36 PM with the PDF of all of the documents, and I wrote and posted my story at around 5:20 PM.
So, is Regalado correct in saying that I received the copies of the Certified Letters she was sent before she got them in the mail? YES!
Was that somehow illegal, or nefarious? NO!
Florida's Public Records Law is very clear on who can provide a public record, and how long they have to provide that record.
Here is what the law says about who can provide a public record.
Section 119.07(1)(a) F.S.
“Every person who has custody of a public record shall
permit the record to be inspected and copied by any
person desiring to do so, at any reasonable time, under
reasonable conditions, and under supervision of the
custodian of the public records.”
Secondly, and specifically to the point about whether I was entitled to receive the copies of the letters before Regalado received them in the mail, this is what the Florida Supreme Court said in Tribune Company v. Cannella, 458 So. 2nd 1075, 1078 (Fla. 1984), the landmark case that set the paramaters for complying with public records requests, and stated that the only delay in producing records permitted under Ch.119,F.S.:
"is the limited reasonable time allowed the custodian to
retrieve the records and delate those portions of the
record the custodian asserts are exempt."
If the document does not contain any information such as Social Security numbers, or bank account numbers, or any information covered by an exemption mandated by the Florida Legislature, the custodian has to turn over the document as soon as they've retrieved and made a copy of it.
There are NO EXEMPTIONS that say that a public record cannot be provided to someone asking for it unless, or until the recipient has gotten her copy in the mail.
There is no excuse for Raquel Regalado not knowing this, given that she's not only a lawyer, but has been an elected public official for 6 years.
Regalado's efforts in going around trying to make it seem that this was part of some grand conspiracy is just another example of her looking to lay off the blame for her actions on someone else.
I know no one in the Property Appraiser's office, had never been to the office's before last Thursday, and quite frankly was actually surprised and impressed by the way in which they behaved in all of this because had this been the City of Miami, I never would have gotten the letters, and the City Attorney, Victoria Mendez, would have - like she has on several other occasions - probably told me that no such documents existed.
So, that's it.
I got the copies of the letters because the law said I was entitled to get them, and kudos to the folks in the Property Appraiser's office who seem to know and follow the law, which is indeed a real anomaly in Miami-Dade County.