Thanks to Jorge Gonzalez, Miami Beach Is Now Dade's Most Corrupt Town
|photo by Jacob Katel|
|Jorge Gonzalez's time is up|
On a muggy autumn afternoon, 400 of Miami Beach's most prominent names packed into a luxury Loews Hotel ballroom. As waiters hoisted trays of food, WSVN's Belkys Nerey took the stage and introduced a big-screen video. With a cinematic splash and to copious applause, billionaire Norman Braman, Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, and former commissioners Saul Gross and Victor Diaz lavished praise on the man of the hour: City Manager Jorge Gonzalez.
The date was October 21, 2010. It was the tenth anniversary of Gonzalez's reign. The back-slapping party marked the delirious high point of the slight, gray-haired manager's $273,000-per-year tenure. The low point came last week, when he stepped down in disgrace. The past 18 months have seen the Beach, Dade's glitziest locale, become its most corrupt.
Among Gonzalez's dubious achievements:
• His pick to head the troubled Building Department was canned after admitting to double-billing taxpayers for more than $154,000.
• His cops have been charged with harassing gays, shooting innocent bystanders, drunken joyriding that nearly killed a beachgoer, and drinking on the job.
• Prosecutors probed whether he extorted thousands of dollars in free tickets from the New World Symphony.
• His procurement director resigned over ties to a felonious developer and accusations of ethics breaches in a convention center renovation project.
• The FBI busted five of his code compliance officers and a firefighter for accepting bribes from clubs, and another firefighter for helping to arrange cocaine shipments.
One question remains: What the hell happened?
Interviews with insiders and commissioners paint a picture of a sordid free fall as scandals bedeviled nearly every department. Gonzalez, who was paid more than the vice president of the United States and will draw a six-figure pension after he leaves office July 8, fostered the problems by creating a culture of fear in a hierarchy with few checks and balances.
"I was not given information, I was lied to, and I was misled regularly," Commissioner Ed Tobin says. "The system has some flaws, but this was all on Jorge."