In 2009, the big political scandal in Miami was the discovery that Miami Police Chief John Timoney had been driving around for months in a new Lexus Hybrid given to him by Lexus of Kendall.
2009 was also the year that Tomas Regalado was elected Mayor, and one the the first things he promised after he was elected was to fire Timoney, in no small part because of the revelations about the "free" Lexus.
Even though Regalado by then had his own personal history of questionable behavior that included a mistress, tax liens and abuse of a city gas card when he'd been a Commissioner, he gave an appearance of wanting to start his term as Mayor by standing strong for personal honesty and integrity.
A lot has happened since he stood on that soapbox to announce that a freeloader like Timoney needed to retire or be fired, and a lot of those things have centered around Regalado's own freeloading ways as Mayor.
In the 7 plus years that he has been Mayor, Regalado has taken free airplane tickets, free hotel rooms, free tickets to all kinds of events from gala balls to boxing matches and sporting events, and of course he's taken free meals from restaurants all over the city, including these two restaurants that opened without licenses or permits.
In March of 2016, The Deck At Island Gardens was opened by the Flagstone Group that mirrored Sea Salt and Pepper's opening and operation without permits and licenses, even to the point of having the same Chef. That's him on the right in the photo below. That restaurant, as regular readers know, operated for a full year without permits and licenses.
In how many other major American cities do you think two high profile restaurants could have opened and operated without permits and licenses, but with the blessing and attendance of the Mayor for as long as these two establishments did and not have it become a front page story in that city's newspapers and/or TV stations?
In Miami, the complicity of the local news media in refusing to report on these kinds of incidents goes hand-in-hand with the more serious acts of corruption by politicians and the protection provided by them by the State Attorney. This trifecta of complicity and co-dependence has contributed mightily to the image of Miami as one of the most corrupt cities in America.
THE MAYOR LIKES TO TRAVEL ON OTHER PEOPLE'S DIME
Earlier this year the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission released a report that detailed how some politicians took advantage of the Protocol Office at the Miami Internatonal Airport to receive curbside to plane escort services.
The biggest user and abuser of that service as reported in the Miami Herald, was none other than Miami's Mayor Tomas Regalado.
Regalado, his girlfriend, and now wife Ana Christina, his son Jose and his daughter Raquel have collectively received tens of thousands of dollars in free airplane tickets and free hotel accommodations during the time he has been Mayor, and to date Regalado has refused to provide a full accounting of all the places, and the airlines that he traveled on.
There are several trips however that I was able to get information about and that stand out.
THE MEXICAN PRESS JUNKET
In May of 2014, Tomas Regalado, his then girlfriend Ana Christina Carrodeguas, Commissioner Willie Gort and his wife, and Angel Zayon went to Merita, Mexico to supposedly celebrate the 3rd anniversary of the Sister City program between Miami and Merita.
It was the 2nd trip they made to Merita in 2014, and one of at least 6 that he's made from then to now. This time, in an effort to generate some favorable publicity they took along 15 members of the local Latin new media, including daughter Raquel and son Jose, who were conveniently listed as press, because what good is a junket if you can't bring your kids along make a home movie of your trip.
Doubling your money while increasing the value of a property you own because you fix up the public park next door is a pretty sweet deal.
Even more revealing was that during the course of the discussion as to how all this had come about to begin with, Commissioner Sarnoff said this:
How much in dollar terms would Milton receive from these benefits?
Below is a portion of the minutes of the 2014 meeting where then Commissioner Sarnoff discloses that information. (Page 73. Commission minutes)
The first resolution allowed the Miltons to rent a 13,000 square foot portion of the park to use for the storage of construction materials and equipment, including a crane for $4,200 a month.
This second Resolution had to do with a desire on the part of Joseph Milton to fix up the park through donation $2.5 million through the construction of a seawall, as well as other improvements.
This offer of a donation came with a very lucrative string attached.
In return for his $2.5 million, which, under a provision in the city's Master Zoning Code was defined as a Public Benefit donation, Milton would receive waivers that he could use on another project he might build in a T6 zoned area.
Next door to this apartment complex is the city's Albert Pallot Park, which starting in 2014 has been an interesting study in the dysfunctional way the city works.
At the October 23, 2014 Commission meeting there were two Resolutions introduced related to this park. The important one was the second one, which was not included in the agenda of the Commission meeting.
Over the years I not only wrote about some of Regalado's trips, but also filed ethics complaints against him for his consistent refusal to reveal who was paying fo the trips he took.
Even when the Ethics Commission agreed that he had failed to comply with the state law on reporting gifts they refused to sanction him, such as when he went to Argentina in 2013 to promote developer Tibor Hollo's Panorama Tower project and ruled that while he had failed to report the trip, he had done so because he had been advised that he did not have to by an Assistant City Attorney.
The only problem with that was that when he was supposedly advised by that attorney, the attorney was not on the city's payroll, having been fired months before.
Regalado has refused to respond.
THE REGALADO/MILTON CONNECTION
Several weeks ago, Tomas Regalado went to the Ribbon Cutting ceremony of a new apartment complex called the Miami Bay Club, built by the Milton family. That's Cecil Milton to the right of the Mayor in the below photo taken at the ribbon cutting.
The most revealing part of this trip however, was not having the Mayor bring his kids along, because he does that all the time anyhow, but rather it was the discovery that Angel Zayon had hand delivered a letter to the Miami Office of Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart asking him for his assistance in order that one of the reporter's scheduled to go on the junket, who was discovered have passport problems, was not left behind
On the morning of July the 5th, I sent the Mayor, Mr. Milton and their attorneys the following email.
When people wonder why Regalado has managed to get away with so much without real scrutiny from the local news media, you have to consider that providing junket opportunities as well as the extra personal attention to making sure your passport is in order buys a lot of good will from people who don't want to bite the hand that can get them free hotel nights in a Mexican resort.
IT'S AIR EUROPA DAY IN MIAMI
In March of 2010, Regalado gave a Key To The City to Juan Jose Hidalgo, the President of Air Uropa airlines, and declared Air Europa Day in Miami.
During Regalado's time as Mayor he has given away Key's To The City with the frequency that a madam passes out condoms to the customers of her whorehouse.
A couple weeks after this ceremony, Frank Carollo, then only months into his first term as a City Commissioner revealed that he had taken free airplane tickets and a hotel room in Madrid for he and his wife from Air Europa after this ceremony.
On July 2nd, I sent an email to Joseph Milton's attorney. Milton, with his brothers are listed as the owners of the building.
Even though Regalado brags about answering questions, he didn't answer mine, so on June 30th, I sent him a follow up email.
Even back then I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would discover that Regalado too had stuck his hand out for free airplane tickets from Air Europa.
It took a while, but after repeated ethics complaints Regalado eventually start reporting some of his trips on FORM 9's,
The big question that has yet to be answered because of Regalado's refusal to turn over all of the travel information on all the trips he's taken is how many free tickets has Regalado received from Air Europa, because even on this trip he was accompanied by other folks who didn't have to report the acceptance of free tickets and hotel rooms.
And of course there's the question of the Quid Pro Quo that is implicit in these Key's To The City giveaways, which brings us to the most interesting trip that I recently discovered Regalado took.
THE MAYOR AND THE ACCUSED EXTORTIONIST
Like Juan Jose Hidalgo, another Spaniard named Luis Pineda got a Key To The City from Regalado.
Even among the collection of Cuban exile bombers, convicted drug smugglers, Medicare fraudsters, dirty cops and run-of-the mill scammers who visit or have worked for Regalado at City Hall Pineda stands out
He started out as a civic activist speaking against the way that the Spanish banking and phone systems took advantage of customers which led to his formation of ASUBANC, a consumer protection agency, which he in turn parlayed into a small publishing empire that focused on banking and finance newspapers and magazines.
How he ended up in Miami is unknown, but soon after he did, he started a publication called Mercado de Dinero USA , and created an annual business seminar called CONSUMIAMI.
That's supposedly how met Regalado, got the Key To The City, used Regalado's office as a set to promote his annual seminar, and eventually invited Regalado to Spain, and covered all the costs.
Pineda decision to pay for Regalado's trip to Spain appears to have been a ploy to bolster his position as a reputable international mover and shaker able to escort someone like the Mayor of Miami to various locales and Spanish business groups and entrepreneurs.
The highlight of the trip was Regalado's signing the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Users of Banking and Financial Services in an official ceremony held at the Archivo General de Indias, in Seville. This document was one that he had created as the cornerstone of his campaign to go after the banks and phone companies.
The signing ceremony was nothing other than a dog and pony show, and had no legal value, but in hindsight it appears that Pineda was by then grasping for anything that he could use to ward off a pending arrest for extortion.
According to the Spanish press, Pineda was arrested and imprisoned by the National Court in May of 2015 on allegations that Pineda had obtained by coercion advertising agreements with banks in exchange for offering a positive image through their means.
In El Pais, a major Spanish daily, his alleged extortion of banks was revealed to have gone on for decades.
"Every other bank cursed him privately, but he was
religiously paid very large sums for decades. You only
need to see your publications and the website to check
the number of collaborating entities that Ausbanc has.
We talked about figures ranging from 400,000 euros to
60,000 annually, depending on the size.
To get a full understanding of what Pineda was up to, this story by the investigative reporter Iñigo de Barrón, for El Pais, is eye opening.
When contacted by another publication for a comment on Pienda being arrested, Regalado, who has referred to him as a friend for life, replied as he often does on being questioned about bad news, that he knew nothing about his friend's arrest on suspicion that he was an extortionist.
Pienda continues to be under investigation by the Spanish court.
WHERE DID HE GO AFTER HE GAVE THE KIDS THE HOUSE
Free meals, free tickets to galas and sporting events along with free airline tickets and hotel rooms have been perennial subjects of stories I've done about Regalado and his children, but I was caught by surprise when I was recently told by several very credible sources that Regalado, after giving his house to son Jose and daughter Raquel in 2015 had moved into a luxury apartment building with his new wife and was receiving free rent worth $25,000 or $30,000 a year from a family of local developers.
Normally, the first thing that I would have done in order to start the process of establishing whether this story was credible would have been to get the address and stake out the building to see whether Regalado or his wife lived there.
In this case Regalado answered the question for me by listing his new address when he gave his son Tommy a campaign donation for his run for District 3 Commissioner.
My next step was writing Regalado to ask him whether he and his wife were in fact living rent free in this luxury apartment building. I sent my first email to the Mayor on June 19th.
the address was for Gables 37 Grand, a luxury apartment building just around the corner from one of Regalado's favorite restaurants, and provider of free meals, Versailles.
The irony is that it is now July of 2017, and even though this proposal to fix up the park and build a seawall was revisited by the City Commission at their November 17, 2016 meeting, where they waived a requirement for competitive bidding and awarded the contract to build the seawall to the Milton's construction company, nothing has ever been done, and a visit to the website of the city's Capital Improvements Department shows that the date for construction to begin is now Monday, February 19, 2018, almost 6 months after a $150,000 FIND Grant that was supposed to be part of this deal will have expired.
Later that day I received the following response from Milton's attorney.
To date there is no evidence to prove that Milton's decided that as a favor for his help in coming up with the Public Benefits plan that they would allow Regalado and his wife to live rent free in one of their apartment buildings as a show of appreciation, or for any other reason for that matter.
While Milton's attorney is correct that they are under no obligation to provide me with any documentation regarding the terms of how the Regalado's are living in one of their buildings, you would think that if there was nothing to hide that Tomas Regalado would have stepped forward and denied this allegation.
That's what real friends do, right? I know that all of you, if confronted by an allegation that involved you and one of your friends, and you knew that the allegation wasn't true, you'd waste no time in denying it, right?
When asked about his relationship with Luis Pineda by a Spanish newspaper last year, Regalado responded by saying, "I have a habit of responding to all the emails and interview requests,"
He's had three opportunities to respond to my request, and he refused all three.
That is unacceptable. The citizens of the City of Miami are entitled to know how long their Mayor has lived at Gables 37 Grand, and to see proof that he's paid rent for the time that he and his wife have lived there.
It's Miami, Bitches!