MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – Fed up with what they feel is runaway public corruption in their fair city, more than a dozen sign wielding Miami Beach residents took to the sidewalk in front of the city hall.
The protest and rally were in response to the recent indictment of seven city employees accused of taking kickbacks and bribes from businesses.
“We are speaking for the residents of Miami Beach who are fed up with our record of 12 years of corruption, eight criminal indictments, three in the building department three years ago, seven now, and the city manager has failed in his responsibility to supervise and oversee this government,” said protest organizer Frank Del Vecchio. “It’s time for him (City Manager Jorge Gonzalez) to resign.”
When the protesters spotted Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, a shouting match erupted.
“You have failed,” shouted the mob.
“I know, I know,” replied the mayor.
Bower said she understands their anger and frustration.
“I’m as angry as they are about what happened,” said Bower, “I’m just as ashamed as they are.”
Former mayoral candidate Steve Berke joined those asking for the city manager’s termination.
“I’ve seen bribes happening in front of my face,” said Berke,
Those calling for action to be taken against Gonzalez have found some support on the commission.
“It falls on him, it falls on him, And then it falls on us to act with his removal,” said city commissioner Jonah Wolfson.
“I think it’s 100% the city managers fault,” said commissioner Ed Tobin.
Gonzalez said he thinks everyone should just take a step back.
“Why don’t we let the dust settle. Why don’t we try to find out all the facts and then pass judgment rather than just rush to judgment and then find out that perhaps the persons were held to accounts,” said Gonzalez.
On Wednesday Chief Code Compliance officer Jose Alberto and officers Willie E. Grant, Orlando E. Gonzalez, Ramon D. Vasallo, and Vicente L. Santiesteban entered not guilty pleas along with Miami Beach firefighter Chai D. Footman in federal court in Miami. Set to appear in court Thursday are Bryant and Miami-Dade police officer Daniel Mack, who are charged separately with involvement in a drug protection scheme.
The men were charged in a complicated scheme in which a club owner was approached for money to look the other way and ignore serious violations at his club.
The club owner went to the FBI, which set up an investigation and sting operation where an undercover agent posed as the club owner. Prosecutors said he made a series of cash payments to Alberto and to 6 others to allow the club to remain open and to protect against any possible future violations.
The meetings were recorded, and the FBI said Miami Beach fire inspector Henry Bryant, one of the alleged co-conspirators, claimed he and Alberto had worked together “for about twelve years on every little gig that [they] had.”
In the course of the FBI sting, the men charged in the alleged conspiracy accepted bribes in excess of $25 thousand from the undercover agents in the form of cash payments.