MIAMI (CBS4) – Embattled City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones was back in the office Wednesday after being reinstated following the dismissal of grand theft charges against her.
“I always knew it would happen, it a beautiful thing that happened for it to come full circle for me to come back to the same seat I was elected to,” said Spence-Jones to CBS4’s Gwen Belton
The District 5 commissioner seems to be wasting no time in diving right back into public service.
“I have some huge issues i have to deal with. Whether it be jobs, to city services, to the police issue,” said Spence-Jones.
Commissioner Spence-Jones is scheduled to be sworn in September 8th, and on September 15th she’ll take her seat in the commission chambers for her frist meeting since being removed from office almost two years ago.
The decision to drop the grand theft charges 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.
“I have to accept it the same way that I received it; and that is to do it with dignity, with integrity and be gracious about it,” Dunn said.
Dunn, who said he believes he may be entitled to the balance of the pay and benefits due him from his remaining term, said he does intend to “make a big deal” of it, that it is not that important to him. He makes a good living as pastor of a Miami church.
“I look forward to continue fighting for the people of district five,” Dunn said.
Regalado said Wednesday that Dunn is not entitled to lost pay or benefits for the remainder of his term.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado also spoke to CBS4. He said he looks forward to working with Spence-Jones and that she is entitled to back pay and benefits lost during the time she was suspended.
“She has lost two years and she has to gain those two years for her district and we’re here to suppport her,” said Regalado.
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.
“Well, no one likes it when a defendant goes to trial,” Raben said. “The shoes on the other foot, they thought my client committed a crime but they couldn’t prove it because there wasn’t any evidence of a crime.
In the political realm, Spence-Jones will return to a very different landscape.
She’ll be doing business with 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.
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