HOMESTEAD (CBS4) – At a rally Thursday evening supporters of suspended Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman said they aren’t bothered by the Bateman’s arrest Wednesday.
Bateman attended the rally, but didn’t take questions saying only “No commento.” Bateman referred us instead to a friend who didn’t want to give his name, but whom CBS4 news identified as Larry Meno, a former golf pro and close friend of the mayor. Meno called Bateman’s arrest “a ploy.”
“The people ought to be ashamed of themselves, the people who are behind it, you know who you are and that will come out and that’ll be the bigger story,” said Meno.
Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman was arrested by state officials around 8:00 Wednesday morning. Bateman was charged with two felony charges of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior.
“It’s another very sad day for the people of Miami-DadeCounty and it’s an even sadder day for the city of Homestead,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a news conference outlining the charges.
Bateman appeared in bond court Wednesday afternoon and was allowed to post a $21,500 bond with money from his wife. She also pledged property she owned as collateral.
“Mayor Bateman looks forward to holding his head up high to continuing to serve his community and to obtain his ultimate vindication,” Bateman’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, told CBS 4′s Lauren Pastrana after the bond court hearing.
Bateman was released just after 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Then he was whisked away in a Mercedes driven by his wife.
Bateman’s arrest Wednesday was connected to a secret consulting gig with Community Health of South Florida and construction projects, first reported by CBS4 News.
Bateman also faces second-degree misdemeanor charges of violation of the Miami-Dade Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance for exploitation of official position, acquiring a financial interest and unregistered lobbying.
A senior law enforcement source told CBS4′s Jim DeFede that when police and representatives from the State Attorney’s Office arrived at Bateman’s house Wednesday morning, he refused to come out of his house.
The source said for more than 20 minutes Bateman refused repeated requests to come out of the house and surrender. His wife came home, opened the door at which point Bateman was finally taken into custody.
Bateman’s attorney contends the mayor simply wanted to take a shower before being arrested.
CBS4’s DeFede reported in early July that Bateman had pushed county officials to approve permits for a new sewage pump station in South Dade. Bateman was reportedly relentless in pushing for the project even during an hour-long meeting in February with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Bateman said at the time that the pump would open the way for several new development in his city, including a new Children’s Crisis Center for Community Health of South Florida Inc.
It turns out, at the same time Bateman was lobbying for the pump, he was being paid as a consultant by Community Health of South Florida. Community Health was paying Bateman $125 an hour for his services as a consultant.
In addition, according to the arrest warrant, Bateman was given a $300 monthly allowance for a vehicle.
According to the arrest warrant, CHI officials said that Bateman offered to intervene with Mayor Gimenez and it wasn’t at the request of CHI.
DeputyMiami-DadeCounty Mayor Jack Osterholt told investigators that at no time during the meeting with Gimenez did Bateman say he was representing a private interest or he would have had to register as a lobbyist.
At the rally Thursday night a friend of the mayor who also works for him said he thinks the meeting with Gimenez was innocent. Dr. Joseph Von Laurer said, “The situation with the meeting with Mayor Gimenez and the visit by our mayor to him was on the behalf of not only CHI but half a dozen or more businesses situated in the very same area, and while those businesses sit dormant we have a great loss of jobs.”
Bateman earns $6,000 a year as the mayor of Homestead and is allowed to have outside employment. However, as DeFede reported in July, prosecutors were looking at what were the circumstances that drove the hiring of Bateman and did his work violate statutes governing official misconduct and unlawful compensation.
Bateman has worked construction in South Dade for at least 20 years. But he does not have a state contractor’s license and his license in Miami-DadeCounty is limited to awnings, shutters, and screen enclosures.
CBS4 News contacted several construction industry experts and without identifying Bateman – described the duties Bateman was charging to Community Health. The experts said the role Bateman appeared to play was that of “owner’s representative” and that $125 an hour was on the high end of the spectrum – but still within industry standards.
They also said while it is not a requirement for an owner’s representative to be a general contractor, given the hourly rate being charged, they would expect the person to have such a license or experience.
A review of records at HomesteadCity Hall in July showed Bateman has never disclosed his new job with Community Health, a non-profit that operates healthcare clinics in South Dade and MonroeCounty.
In addition to the pump station, Bateman has helped Community Health in other ways. Last year, at the company’s urging, he signed a letter of support to the federal government to help get Community Health grant money. He has also promoted their events through his city email account.
The arrest warrant stated that Bateman was overseeing three different Homestead construction projects including the SouthDadeCenter, the MLK Clinica Campesina, and the Children’s Crisis Center, all of which would require permits from the city of Homestead.
The contract with Community Health is potentially very lucrative for Bateman. According to the arrest warrant, on February 25, 2013, CHI issued a purchase order for $120,000 to be paid to Bateman for consulting services through February 2014.
But it could be more.
CBS4 News reviewed invoices reportedly submitted by Bateman to Community Health for the week of April 21 through April 28. In those invoices Bateman billed Community Health for a total of 38 hours of work on six different projects, including ten hours alone on the proposed Children’s Crisis Center in Homestead.
The total for the invoices came to $4,750. At that rate, Bateman stood to be paid $247,000 for the year.
Community Health isn’t the only project in Homestead tied to the pump station. Nor is it the only project with financial links to Bateman and his wife, Donna, a real estate agent in Homestead.
DadeMedicalCollege is hoping to break ground in downtown Homestead on several new facilities. The head of DadeMedicalCollege, Ernesto Perez, is a close ally of Bateman and one of his campaign contributors. Perez recently told the Miami Herald he hired Donna Bateman as a real estate advisor.
A third project, involving a charter school, is also hoping for the pump station. If the pump station is approved it will save the developer the cost of having to find an alternative way to deal with its sewage. The deal is being spearheaded by developer Wayne Rosen, who told CBS4 News that the real estate agents he selected to gain the commission on the land sale was Donna Bateman.
“It should be a message to every public official in Miami-Dade county that people are now watching and do what you’re supposed to do,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “All he had to do was say he was a lobbyist, etc. Okay, we would have taken that into consideration and is it meritorious or not meritorious and then we would have made our decision.”
Bateman is due in court for his arraignment hearing on September 27th.
Gov. Rick Scott suspended Bateman, who had been running for re-election.