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If, as they say, money is the mother's milk of politics, then the politicians and the political players in Miami have got Momma hooked up to a 24/7 milking machine.
In the first part of this series, I focused on the sizable donations made to Francis Suarez's campaign for Mayor last year, and especially the donations to his political committee, Miami's Future, Inc., that had been formed to support that campaign.
That committee was formed by Sarah Manzano, the wife of Jesse Manzano, Suarez's campaign manager, and in an interesting turn of events, it turned out that both of them had and have political consulting companies that benefited from their position's as Suarez's campaign manager and chairperson of his political committee.
A review of the records of Suarez's campaign and Miami's Future, Inc., prompted me several weeks ago to file a 4 count complaint with the Florida Elections Commission, that included among the allegations my claim that the intertwining relationships between Sarah, her husband Jesse, Suarez's political committee and their personal consulting companies violated provisions of Florida Statute 106.011 (12a.) having to do with "Independent Expenditures." (NOTE: A copy of the complaint with backup documents is at the bottom of this story.)
(12)(a) “Independent expenditure” means an expenditure by
a person for the purpose of expressly advocating the election
or defeat of a candidate or the approval or rejection of an issue,
which expenditure is not controlled by, coordinated with, or made
upon consultation with, any candidate, political committee, or
agent of such candidate or committee. An expenditure for such
purpose by a person having a contract with the candidate,
political committee, or agent of such candidate or committee
in a given election period is not an independent expenditure.
A review of the records of Miami's Future, Inc., showed that payments totaling $96,300.00, went to Sarah's husband's company, Tridente Strategies, Inc..
The review also showed that starting on April 7, 2016, Miami's Future, Inc. also began making payments to Sarah Manzano's company, SRS Solutions, Inc., totaling $101,332,89.
On the campaign side, SRS Solutions, Inc. and Tridente Strategies Inc, received payments from the Suarez For Mayor campaign managed by Jesse Manzano. Tridente Strategies Inc., was paid $96,699.09, and SRS Solutions was paid $9000.00.
A review of the corporate records for both companies showed that they shared the same address as the political committee Miami's Future, Inc., which also happened to be the offices of Jose Riesco, CPA, the accountant for both Suarez's campaign and Miami's Future, Inc..
THE POLITICS OF MONEY: FRANCIS SUAREZ'S CAMPAIGN AND POLITICAL COMMITTEE SPENT ALMOST $2.2 MILLION. HERE'S WHY I FILED A COMPLAINT WITH THE FLORIDA ELECTIONS COMMISSION ABOUT SOME OF THOSE EXPENDITURES AND WHY FRANCIS SUAREZ SITS ATOP AN ETHICAL SWAMP
NUMBER 22 - APRIL 26, 2018
The fact that this husband and wife team oversaw the decision making and operation of both the campaign and the political committee while sharing the same office, dining room table and bed challenges any notion that their actions were, or could have been done without violating the provisions and definition of what constitutes, “independent expenditures” between a candidate's campaign and a political committee supposedly required to operate at arm's length.
WHOM AND WHAT ELSE DID JESSE AND SARAH SPEND MONEY ON
Among the questions that I raised in PART I of this series was why would Francis Suarez need to spent almost $2.2 million dollars against 3 candidates, only one of which was able to self-donate $1,000 to her campaign.
In addition to spending money on each other, the Manzano's also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the services of other political consulting companies and service providers, among them Steve Marin & Sons, whose history as a lobbyist with close ties to Francis Suarez was revealed in an extraordinary email that lobbyist Carlos Gimenez Jr., wrote in 2011, describing the process surrounding the award of the contract for the Red Light Cameras that continues to be one of the most revealing explanations of how business was conducted by the Miami City Commission.
Along with Steve Marin, a handful of other companies also received lucrative payments from both the Suarez campaign and Miami's Future, Inc., for everything from fund raising, to mailers and billboards, to TV and radio commercials and to polling and who knows what else.
With the exclusion of Goldmeier, the amounts of money that the Suarez campaign spent raises a number of questions, not only because of the amounts spent, but also because some of the supposed services seem to have been unnecessarily duplicated by both the campaign and the political committee?
Secondly, although Miami's Future, Inc. was entitled to raise and spend money on behalf of as many candidates and/or issues as they chose - as long as they didn't coordinate the purchase or use of these services with the Suarez campaign - they failed to list the 25 candidates in Section 7 of the Statement of Organization of Political Committee?
To some folks this might seem like asmall and petty scriber's error, but given just how weak the laws already are, the notion that ignoring what requirements are required is in invitation to just ignoring all the laws and turning Miami and the rest of Florida into a wild west free-for-all, which in fact happens at least once every election cycle when among other dirty tricks campaign ads show up in mailboxes with fake campaign names, addresses and an inability to trace where these ads came from.
In this case the question was whether Miami's Future, Inc, provided more than just cash donations to any of those candidates?.
If they did, and at this point there is no way to establish how the companies who provided services actually spent the money, this raises a question of whether the candidates who received campaign donations might also have received in-kind services from these companies. Because there is no record of whether they did or did not, candidates who did were not under any pressure to reveal this information, thereby shielding this information from public scrutiny.
Here is the list of candidates who received money from Miami's Future, Inc..
The question of whether any of these campaigns received support other than a cash donation is based on the fact that Suarez's opponents had little public support or money to generate much in the way of public interest or support, which therefore prompts the question of, if you're running against 3 people who don't have any possibility of winning, then why did Miami's Future, Inc., spend $81,000.00 for polling?
I have not been able to independently verify a claim made to me in an off-the-record discussion with someone affiliated with another campaign that polling was done on behalf of other candidates by the Suarez campaign, but I am aware of another political action committee that did polling for candidates, and like Absentee Ballot Fraud, this is a practice has gone on in the past.
The issue of polling is tied to questions and rumors about a possible backdoor relationship between Miami's Future, Inc., and the campaign of Alfie Leon, who was supported publicly by Xavier Suarez, father of Francis.
A review of Leon's campaign reports and the Political Committee, People For Stronger Communities, show that from July 1, through the end of the runoff against Joe Carollo, the campaign did not have a single expense labeled "Polling," and that the Committee had one expenditure of $1,500 on October 27th.
In the hotly contested race that this was, a race that resulted in a runoff, to discover that neither candidate - and Joe Carollo's campaign reports and political committee also don't show any expenditures for polling either - raises a serious questions about the possibility of unreported in-kind contributions by any number of campaigns.
WHEN IT COMES TO POLITICAL SWAMPS, MIAMI'S SWAMP IS BIGGER THAN THE EVERGLADES
PART I - AN OLD DOG KEEPS DOING OLD TRICKS
Besides being a political operative, Jesse Manzano is a lobbyist.
You find that kind of activity a lot. A political operative works to get a candidate elected, and then they turn around and go into business representing clients who want something from government and the operative by virtue of his relationship with the newly elected official has access that he/she can cash in on.
Jesse Manzano's has been a political operative/ lobbyist for a while, and in 2015, he joined the Communications and Governmental Affairs lobbying firm LSN Partners.
LSN Partners was started by attorneys Marcelo Llorente and Alex Heckler, who also founded the law firm Llorente and Heckler. Both of these firms share office space, partners and personnel at 801 Arthur Godfrey Road on Miami Beach.
As previously discussed, among Manzano's campaign operative clients was Carlos Gimenez, the Mayor of Miami-Dade County. In 2016, Manzano was Gimenez's campaign manager when he ran for reelection as Mayor of Miami-Dade County.
In May of that year, Miami Herald reporter Doug Hanks did a story revealing that while working for Gimenez, Manzano was also working for the Resort World Miami/Genting company as a "communications consultant." He had relinquished his role as their lobbyist in 2015.
Here's what Hanks wrote about Manzano's role with the Gimenez campaign and Resort World Miami/Genting.
BYG Strategies was important because BYG stands for Brian Goldmeier, who has become recognized as the go-to-guy a candidate goes to if he needs to raise serious money.
Goldmeier was credited with raising the most of the millions that Carlos Gimenez needed to beat back Raquel Regalado's efforts to unseat him, and this is why he collected $202,268.31 for his efforts in raising money for Suarez's campaign.
Manzano did not register to lobby for Resort World Miami in 2016, or 2017, but on January 31, 2018 he signed up ro represent them again.
So, once again, Manzano is back working as a lobbyist for Resort World Miami, while now working for newly elected Mayor Francis Suarez on a newly formed committee to get voters to make him the most powerful elected official in the city.
The exemption of the Mayor from the Lobbyist Registration Form's requirement on reporting business or financial relationships, highlighted on the forms above - it's little things like this that I often refer to as the way that corruption has been baked into the Miami City Charter and Ordinances of the City of Miami - are words that are written to provide cover for chicanery and insider-dealing between politicians and selected lobbyists, and that means that a guy who since 2015 has been at Francis Suarez's side, and is also a lobbyist working for a company that has had nothing but problems in trying to get support for the construction of a casino on there waterfront property, has a relationship that supersedes any and all bullshit prohibitions against getting the Mayor to do your client favors.
While legal, the process ethically stinks, and the strongest stench comes from the self described "straight shooter" Mayor, who keeps trying to convince voters that he's squeaky clean.
PART II - WHEN PIGS LINE UP AT THE TROUGH IT'S SOMETIMES A TEAM EFFORT
Here is a screen grab of a small portion of the donor list for Miami's Future, Inc.
At the top you see LSN Partners LLc and Llorente & Heckler P.A., donated $15,000.00 to the political committee which was being managed by their LSN partner's wife Sarah Manzano.
And just so there's no confusion about the relationship among these folks, here is a screen grab from their website that I've highlighted.
At the bottom of the donor list above, you see I highlighted Lancelot Miami River LLc, a company that donated $5,000,00 to Miami's Future, Inc..
Lancelot Miami River LLc, is a registered Florida corporation owned by Michael Adler, Raiffe Jonathan, Tina Spano and David Adler. In addition to this corporation, the Adler family are also owners and/or partners in a number of other real estate developments.
In addition to the $5,000, the Adler family donated at least another $10,000 in bundled donations to the Suarez campaign, as I reported in PART I.
The important thing to know about Lancelot Miami River LLc in this instance is that this is the company in line to buy the City's Metropolitan River Center Administrative Building (MRC), and part of the deal requires them building a new City Hall and administrative center for the City.
Lancelot Miami River LLc, hired Michael Llorente and Diana Mendez in July of 2016 to be their lobbyists, after Francis Suarez had officially announced his candidacy for Mayor BUT while he was still a City Commissioner
What this means is that while Jesse Manzano was running Francis Suarez's campaign for Mayor, two of his partners were lobbying on behalf of Lancelot Miami River LLc., during a time that Suarez was STILL a City Commissioner, thereby raising the question of whether whatever shared profits were generated by LSN Partners, in 2015, as a result of the lobbying done by Michael Llorente and Diana Mendez on behalf of Lancelot Miami River LLc., benefited Jesse Manzano?
Lancelot Miami River LLc., is not the only large campaign donor to the Suarez campaign also represented by Michael llorente and Diana Mendez.
Aabad Melwani, whose family holds the lease to the Rickenbacker Marina - the subject of stories on this blog in 2016 and 2017 - during the time that Manzano was Suarez's campaign manager in his race for Mayor - not only donated $47,000 to the Suarez campaign, but also hired Llorente and Mendez as his lobbyists, and again, this was during a time that Suarez WAS still a City Commissioner.
So again, while one partner is managing a political campaign, two other partners from the company are lobbying that same politican. Does that exempt the partner whose doing the campaign managing from the provisions in the lobbyist registration from revealing, "Any business association or financial relationship wth any member of the City Commission...?"
At the end of the year does the campaign manager get a share of the company profits from that lobbying activity?
It's an interesting question but one that I suspect that no one wants to get to close to, because in Miami, ethical misbehavior is like herpes, a lot of people got it, but no one wants anyone to know they got it.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that before Michael Llorente joined his brother at Llorente & Heckler and LSN Partners, he was the Chief of Staff for Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez.
Miami is no different than every other big city across this country where as the saying goes, "Money talks, and bullshit walks."
There is some evidence to support the claim that even in the first 4 months of Francis Suarez's term as Mayor, meetings have taken place and deals have been done that probably would never have happened were it not for the donations made by deep pocket individuals and companies who, as to be expected, wasted little time in showing up with an expectation that they were entitled to a return on their investment on Francis Suarez.
And the game hasn't even really begun, because now the focus is on whether Francis Suarez can succeed in his efforts to become a Strong Mayor. For some of these folks they see this as an opportunity for a seat on the Carousel, and they'll do a lot, and spend a lot for that opportunity
It's Miami, Bitches!
THERE WILL BE A PART III, AND POSSIBLY A PART IV AND A PART V TO THIS SERIES, BUT IN THE INTERIUM, THERE ARE OTHER STORIES THAT NEED TO BE TOLD, SO KEEP READING BECAUSE THE SUAREZ ADMINISTRATION HAS STIRRED UP A LOT OF FOLKS, AND THE CRESPOGRAM HOTLINE IS RINGING OFF THE HOOK
HERE'S A COPY OF MY COMPLAINT TO THE FLORIDA ELECTIONS COMMISSION
Manzano's double-duty, working for Resort World Miami and the campaign of Miami-Dade Mayor Gimenez was perceived as a classic conflict of interest where a lobbyist has a business and/or financial relationship with an elected official whose vote and/or decisions could impact on his client.
While it's true that Manzano quit lobbying for Resort World Miami at the County in April of 2015, it was a relatively easy process to discover that no sooner did he stop lobbying at the County, that he started lobbying for Resort World Miami with the City of Miami, where wouldn't you know, he was also working as the campaign manager for Francis Suarez's reelection to the City Commission.
In short, while he closed one door, he opened another, doing the same exact thing.
And not only did Jesse Manzano work on Suarez's reelection campaign, so did his wife Sarah, who started collecting payments to SRS Solutions, Inc, at the end of April 2015.
On April 18th, Joey Flechas, the Herald's latest Miami City Hall reporter, wrote a story about the decision by Francis Suarez to put a referendum on the ballot that would change the City Charter and make him a "Strong Mayor."
Flechas story included these two paragraphs:
Here's Jesse's payout.
I was pleased to appear on this video podcast last week, and I would recommend that after you read today's story, if you can, link on and watch it. It you can't do it today, make some time over the weekend. Thanks: www.felonymiami.com