HOMESTEAD (CBSMiami) – For the third time in as many weeks, a local mayor has found himself on the wrong side of the law.
Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman was arrested by state officials around 8:00 Wednesday morning. According to CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald, Mayor 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-Dade County 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.
The 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.
Vice-Mayor Jon Burgess will likely by default become the new mayor of Homestead.
“There were innuendos that things like this were going on and then of course as they came to light you start seeing things and putting pieces together in your mind that yeah, that did happen,” Vice-Mayor Burgess said. “When reality sets in, it wakes you up; and you say I’m glad someone is paying attention – for the state attorney to go to the level that we are today; we had to have a cancer here in house.”
Homestead City Manager George Gretsas said there was a pattern of undesirable behavior from Bateman.
“The evidence is pretty clear that from day one city policies were not followed, procedures were not followed, city laws were not followed, abuses of power took place with this individual. Staff was bullied. People had special favors done for them,” said Gretsas. “It was pretty clear from day one of this individual’s reign here is his attempt was to turn this into a strong mayor form of government and utilize his position to line his pockets.”
Homestead Commissioner Judy Waldman agreed.
“I believe that CHI is just the tip of the iceberg. I think there so much more,” said Waldman. “I encourage the State Attorney to keep looking and keep investigating.”
Governor Rick Scott issued a statement Wednesday morning saying, “I join all Floridians in profound disappointment that another elected official has been arrested and violated the public’s trust. Elected officials that break the law must be prosecuted to its fullest extent. All elected officials must be held to the highest ethical standard.”
If Governor Scott follows his actions after other politicians were arrested, he will likely suspend Bateman from office at some point Wednesday.
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.
Deputy Miami-Dade County 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.
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-Dade County 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 Homestead City 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 Monroe County.
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 South Dade Center, 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.
Dade Medical College is hoping to break ground in downtown Homestead on several new facilities. The head of Dade Medical College, 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.