By Peter D'Oench

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HIALEAH (CBSMiami) — A Hialeah mayor said his $4,000 fine paid in pennies was done in protest, a protest that a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public trust says :makes him look foolish.”

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At a courthouse on Wednesday, nearly 400,000 pennies and nickles were dropped off in stacks of boxes.

The money was from Mayor Carlos Hernandez who was fined by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust after he was accused of loansharking. The mayor made the payment to the court which will send the Commission a check for the fine.

“I said from the beginning it is U.S. currency and they should accept it. From the very first moment, I felt this showed the arrogance of that political organization and it is what it is,” said Mayor Hernandez. “At the end of the day there was an agreement to take this money and accept what we were giving.”

Hernandez first attempted the stunt last November but was unsuccessful attempting in paying with 400,000 pennies in 28 orange buckets.

“This is just an organization that has a political agenda and the bottom line is that I have very little respect for them,” said Hernandez. “And I think that the $36 million that the citizens are paying for this agency that I think the money could be better spent in other uses like paying for the FBI’s anti-corruption unit.”

In a response to that statement, Commission spokeswoman Rhonda Victor Sibilia said, “Where did the mayor’s $36 million figure about this agency come from? Our budget is barely above $1 million annually and we’ve only been in operation since 1998. Do the math. After he was elected, Mayor Hernandez signed an affidavit stating he was cognizant of and agreed to abide by the conflict of interest and code of Ethics ordinance. But he has no respect for us right?”

The fine stems from Hernandez’s testimony in 2014 at the trial of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife who were acquitted of tax evasion charges.

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Hernandez testified as a prosecution witness about his role as a private money-lender. He testified that he had loaned $180,000 to convicted Ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez in 2007 and charged an annual interest rate of 36 percent — a violation of Florida’s laws against loansharking and 2nd degree misdemeanor.

The Commission on Ethics said Hernandez violated the Citizens Bill of Rights by lying in both English and Spanish.

“The Ethics Commission was established by a vote of Miami-Dade County citizens in 1996 as a way to stem corruption and encourage positive behabior in politicians in an attempt to increase public trust in their local officials,” said Sibilia. “No politician has a say in its operations and the only political agenda we have is to try to clean up local politics. His so-called protest has had no impact on this agency, but makes him look foolish.”

The story was in the news again recently when CBS4’s Jim DeFede reported that Mayor Hernandez was co-hosting a fundraiser for the county’s top prosecutor, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

Hernandez was never charged with a crime as a result of his testimony in federal court. The statute of limitations had expired.

Hernandez said his fine in pennies represent the final chapter in this saga.

“I said from the beginning that this was a circus and I wanted no part of it. They kept dragging me in to this and I feel there is much better use of the taxpayers’ money than this.”

Joseph Centorino, the Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, told CBS4 that while the mayor has complied and paid his fine, his penny tactic was a way of “distracting from the real issue.” He said that was unfortunate for the people of Hialeah that their mayor behaved this way.

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Hernandez said his payment plan was approved by attorneys.

Peter D'Oench