South Miami Soccer Club Accuses City Officials of Unethical Practices

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Commissioner Robert Welsh

The leafy hamlet of South Miami has turned into a cesspool of political backbiting and allegations of unethical behavior by some of its officials. In recent weeks, even a kids' soccer program has come under fire amid accusations of conflicts of interest against South Miami United -- the group that runs soccer at South Miami Park -- as well as alleged Sunshine Law violations by Commissioner Robert Welsh.

The soccer scrum is just the latest controversy to sully city hall.

Welsh was recently fined $250 by the Miami-Dade ethics commission because he had conversations with companies bidding on a pool project, which is prohibited under the city's procurement rules. That complaint was filed by City Manager Hector Mirable. Another ethics probe, initiated by blogger Mike Hatami, AKA the Strawbuyer, is looking into $3,000 paid to Airways Auto Tag since 2003. The tag agency is owned by the wife of South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro. City rules prohibit making purchases from a relative of a city employee.

In the latest dustup, a soccer club called the South Miami Grey Ghosts is suing the city after the South Miami Commission rejected Mirable's June 12 recommendation to award the organization a franchise to run the soccer program. The Grey Ghosts had offered to pay the city $142,500 -- $22,500 more than South Miami United offered -- for a three-year deal.

Javier Rodriguez, president of the Grey Ghosts, claims Patrick Flood and Anthony Tolgyesi, the operators of South Miami United, violated the city's code of ethics and had a conflict of interest because both men sat on the city's parks and recreation board during the two and a half years they've had the franchise agreement to run the city's soccer program. "You can't sit on a city board and conduct business with the city," Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez also accused Welsh of violating the Sunshine Law when the commissioner sent an email on June 10 to his colleagues advocating on behalf of South Miami United. "His actions call into question his ethics and the way business is handled in South Miami," Rodriguez adds.

Welsh did not reply to a phone message left with his secretary at his city hall office.

In an emailed response to questions, Flood asserts he was not aware of the city's prohibition until he attended an ethics lecture hosted by the city attorney in March. He immediately resigned from the board. "During my tenure, there was never a single situation where a possible conflict of interest with the soccer program came to light," Flood says.

He also noted it was the city's parks and recreation department administrators, not the advisory board, that asked him and Tolgyesi to run the program because they had been running the original Grey Ghosts youth soccer club between 2008 and 2010.

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