MIAMI(CBS4)- Suspended Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones spoke with CBS4 one day after the final grand theft charges were dropped against her and the governor reinstated her into office.
In her first sit-down interview, a very elated Spence-Jones spoke exclusively with CBS4’s Jawan Strader. Spence-Jones, 44, said she was working on a community event Tuesday when she received the news and was surprised.
“I was definitely overjoyed and I finally felt vindicated because the truth was out,” she told Strader. “And like I said from day one, you know, when all of this started two years ago, that I was innocent.”
Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped a grand theft charge against Spence-Jones, which paved the way for her return to City Hall. 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.
“I feel vindicated from the standpoint of at least now the changes have been officially dropped and my community can now celebrate in a victory,” she said. “I can now celebrate in a victory with my family. So yes, at the end of the day it’s over. And to me there’s vindication in it being over.”
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.
Spence-Jones said she is ready to get back to work.
“I lost two years of serving a district I was elected to two years ago so right now the biggest focus for me is to really get back to work and to continue to serve the people that elected me,” she said.
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.
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.