MIAMI (CBS4) – Less than an hour and a half of deliberations, a jury has ruled that former Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones was not guilty of bribery or grand theft.
“The truth finally comes out. You know that you never did anything wrong,” said Spence-Jones after walking out of the courtroom singing the Gospel hymn “Victory today is mine.”
On Wednesday both the prosecution and defense presented their closing statements and the jury begain their deliberations just after 2:30 p.m.
Spence-Jones was accused of soliciting bribes in the form of charitable donations from two developers who had business pending before the Miami commission.
On Tuesday, the state wrapped up their case and Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Rosa Rodriguez appeared somewhat skeptical of the prosecution’s claims.
“I’m finding it difficult to understand the state’s theory in all this. What was the corrupt intent? I want to know that,” said Judge Rodriguez. “Ultimately, the money, whether her fingerprints are there or not, the money did not go to her personally.”
Last week, prominent Miami developer Armando Codina took the stand to answer questions about his donation.
Prosecutors claim that at the request of the former commission’s office, Codina made a $12,500 donation to the Friends of MLK Trust, which Spence-Jones ran from her office. The money was reportedly to be used for an event honoring former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler. Investigators said they found that the money never went to the Carey-Shuler event and the Trust wasn’t established until months later.
Codina said that after he looked into the Spence-Jones charity and was convinced the money wasn’t going “in her own pocket” he called a partner in the Brickell project, Richard Glas, and suggested he might want to make a matching contribution as well.
Codina testified that never paid a bribe, and the donation was one he would have given anyway.
Spence-Jones is also facing a separate 2009 grand theft charge for allegedly steering $50,000 in county grant money to a family-run business, before her elected tenure in office. She’s pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle released this statement late Wednesday:
“In this case, the jury had no choice but to acquit the defendant because the judge instructed the jury that, in effect, soliciting or accepting a bribe through a charity is legal, even if done with corrupt intent. We disagree with the judge’s interpretation of the bribery law. Bribery has become very sophisticated in our community. We believe that bribery done to influence a public official, even if done through a charity, is illegal. We will continue to investigate, prosecute, and enforce our bribery law,” said Fernandez Rundle.