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OPA-LOCKA (CBSMiami) – Following a recent Opa-locka City Commission meeting, City Manager David Chiverton moved quickly toward the exit as soon as the meeting adjourned. With TV cameras close behind, Chiverton refused to break stride.
“I don’t shake anybody down, sir,” Chiverton told CBS4’s Jim DeFede. “It’s an ongoing investigation; I don’t have any comments at this time.”
Chiverton is at the center of one of the largest public corruption investigations in South Florida in the last 20 years. The federal probe started when Frank Zambrana attempted to open a business repairing and selling farm equipment in Opa-locka.
At the beginning of 2013, Zambrana applied for an occupational license that should have only cost no more than $200.
Instead, he said, his license was held up and he was allegedly forced to make thousands of dollars in payoffs to city commissioner Luis Santiago. Frustrated, he became an undercover informant with the FBI, recording his meetings.
And it was during one of the meetings with Santiago that Zambrana said he was introduced to Chiverton, who at the time was Opa-locka’s assistant city manager.
“Santiago goes to me, ‘Look, I’m going to introduce you with someone, this time were going to get your license,’” Zambrana recalled.
Before the introduction was made. however, Zambrana had to make another payment to Santiago.
“They made me count the money,” he said. “I give it to Santiago. When Mr. Chiverton showed up, he asked Santiago, ‘Did you get the money?’ And he said, ‘I have the money.’”
Zambrana, whose story first appeared in The Miami Herald, said Santiago then dismissed the two men.
“So Santiago goes to me, ‘Go with him, he’s going to get your license. This is the man who is going to get your license,’” Zambrana said.
They walked to Chiverton’s office.
“He explains to me, ‘Look we’re going to get your license, we know what happened, and I’m going to get your license,’” Zambrana said.
He said following their first meeting Chiverton started asking him for money.
“I did four payments to Mr. Chiverton,” Zambrana said.
Because Zambrana did not have a license he had been racking up between $10,000 and $15,000 fines from the city’s code enforcement inspector.
“In order to get my license, I had to get the fines out of the system,” he said. “So I went back to Mr. Chiverton. He said, ‘Look, this is very simple, you’ve got a lot of fines. Very simple, you give me $3,000 and I get all the fines out of the system.’”
Zambrana said all of the payments to Chiverton were made in cash with money provided by the FBI. And all of the payoffs, he said, were caught on the hidden camera the FBI gave him.
“All of them on video,” he said.
In addition to clearing up the fines, Zambrana also needed to get his water turned back on after it had been shut off. But when he tried to pay the bill he was told he couldn’t until his license was issued. Once again he said he called Chiverton.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it I’m sending someone to take care of this problem,’” Zambrana recounted. “He said it was going to cost me $250.”
Soon the city’s public works director, Gregory Harris, arrived at his business.
“And I give him the $250,” he said.
Zambrana said Harris wrote his name down in a ledger he kept.
“He told me, ‘Look, today is going to cost you $250, but you pay me $50 a month, you can use all the water you want. But it’s got to be cash, to me,’” Zambrana recalled. “This is why the city is in bankruptcy. How are they going to survive if these people are taking all the money?”
Opa-locka is currently in a state of financial crisis with a $1.4 million budget deficit. The governor is currently considering appointing an oversight board to take over the city’s finances.
Phone messages and emails sent to Harris asking for his comment were not returned.
Zambrana said on another day he received an urgent call from Chiverton.
“This time he said, ‘Look, we have a problem with you. Immigration is looking for you, some federal agents,’” Zambrana said.
Zambrana is a legal resident who moved to this country from Nicaragua 25 years ago.
“He said, ‘Look, this is very simple. I’m a very close friend of Marco Rubio. I have dinner with Jeb Bush. I know very important people. All you got to do is this – give me $25,000. I can fix your immigration status,’” Zambrana said.
The FBI agents working with Zambrana reportedly told him Chiverton was lying. It was just another scam.
Zambrana said the last player caught up in the alleged bribery scheme over his occupational license was someone he considered a friend – Demetrius “Corleon” Taylor, the son of Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor.
Demetrius Taylor called him and said he wanted to speak to him about his license application, Zambrana claimed.
When Zambrana said he met with him he kept saying to himself, “Please don’t ask me for money.”
Unfortunately, Zambrana said, when the two friends met the topic of money was front and center.
“He goes to me, ‘Look, I can help you get the license. It’s going to cost you $3,000,’” Zambrana said.
Zambrana said he was crushed.
“The FBI gave me the money,” Zambrana said. “Saturday in the afternoon he was there [at my house] asking me for the money. I counted and I give him the money. Everything is recorded on video.”
The mayor has not directly addressed the accusations against her son. During last week’s city commission meeting she made a veiled reference to the criminal investigation.
“Obviously things are coming in the paper that is not necessarily true,” she said.
Demetrius Taylor did not respond to a request for an interview.
(In Part 3 of The FBI’s Inside Man, CBS4 News examines the toll this investigation took on Zambrana and his frustration no one has been arrested.)