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Case Dropped Against Suspended Miami Commissioner Spence-Jones

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MIAMI(CBS4)-Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped a grand theft charge against suspended Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, possibly paving the way for her return to City Hall.

“I’m elated. I’m glad that it’s over. I’m happy that we can go on with our lives,” said her husband, Nathaniel Jones, who also told reporters that Spence-Jones plans to hold a Tuesday news conference.

The dramatic decision comes five months after Spence-Jones, in an unrelated prosecution, was acquitted at trial on charges that she had solicited a $25,000 bribe from a prominent developer.

According to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald, the City of Miami charter allows for Spence-Jones’ immediate return to elected office – and for her to collect nearly two years’ of back salary and benefits. That means Miami Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, who has represented District 5 since her removal, will be out.

“She’s entitled to it. She should have it. But I also will say in the same breath, that I may be entitled to some pay as well. But I will relinquish her seat,” said Commissioner Dunn.

The action in the grand theft case was not a surprise after a key witness, former Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, changed her testimony in the past year, hobbling the prosecution’s theory.

Originally, Spence-Jones was accused of illegally steering $50,000 in county grants to a family business in 2005, before her tenure as a commissioner began.

Initially, Carey-Shuler adamantly denied that she had authored an official 2005 letter that re-directed money from the county-affiliated Metro Miami Action Plan Trust to Karym Ventures, the Spence-Jones family company.

When investigators first questioned Carey-Shuler about the letter, which bore her letterhead and signature stamp, she said she never intended for the money to go to the company.

Prosecutors, relying on Carey-Shuler’s testimony, cast the letter as a forgery, part of what they believed was a scheme by Spence-Jones to take over the $50,000 grant, originally intended for two other community  organizations.

But Carey-Shuler’s story changed last year after defense attorney Peter Raben uncovered an early draft of the letter, with revisions penned by Carey-Shuler herself, the Herald reported.

“I can’t deny that’s my handwriting,” Carey-Shuler said at a June 21, 2010 deposition.

Though Carey-Shuler said she did not recall writing the notes, she said in the deposition that she believed the letter approving the payment came from her office — and that she had indeed intended for Karym Ventures, the Spence-Jones family company, to get the $50,000.

In the political realm, Spence-Jones will return to a very different landscape.

She’ll be doing business with a mayor, Tomas Regalado, whom she knew primarily as a counterpart on the commission, and with three commissioners she’s never worked with before. Also, the city is on its third city manager since Spence-Jones was initially removed from office in November 2009.

She’ll also face surly city union members frustrated about losing benefits to fill budget shortfalls; a lengthy public feud between the mayor and the police chief; and District 5 residents still angered about a series of inner-city shooting deaths by police that began last summer and continued into February.

District 5 includes portions of Liberty City, Overtown and Little Haiti.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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