Please tell me that I’m not the only person in South Florida who read this morning’s Miami Herald article, Florida City mayor tries to help ex-Homestead mayor raise money for criminal defense, and said, “WTF was that?”
And that was only the headline! It just gets worse from there.
For one thing, here you have an elected official who was arrested not just once, but again two months later, for allegedly violating campaign finance laws while running for an office in which he allegedly committed felonies after he won the seat.
Talk about an inauspicious start to a budding criminal career in public service!
Coming to the aid of Steven Bateman, who was ousted from office after his first arrest last August, is the ethically challenged mayor of Florida City, Homestead’s neighboring township. Bateman’s guardian angel has had his own share of troubles, as a New Times article from February 23, 2012 points out, Otis Wallace, Florida city’s “mayor for life,” is corrupt with power. Of Wallace reporter Michael E. Miller wrote:
“Official documents, interviews, and a two-month investigation by Miami New Times paint the picture of a powerful man corrupted into a millionaire land owner who manipulates elections and abuses his position. Records show the FBI and the Miami-Dade Police public corruption unit have repeatedly investigated Wallace, collecting testimony that he illegally sold his vote for a $1 million land deal and orchestrated bribes for city permits. Political opponents, meanwhile, have handed federal investigators evidence that a convicted felon working for the mayor has influenced votes.”
And yet, as the Herald article points out, he’s never been charged with anything.
Otis Wallace has been the mayor of Florida City for nearly one third of its hundred year existence. This year the city celebrates its centennial, and Mayor Wallace’s thirtieth in office. The New Times’ moniker, “mayor for life” is an understatement.
It’s also the perfect argument for term limits in office.
In his article Miller noted, “Both Wallace and Florida City have grown. As his personal wealth has swelled, so have city limits — each driven by the mayor’s insatiable hunger for success. Today Wallace wields more power over his personal fiefdom than any other politician in Florida.”
That kind of power also holds sway at the ballot box. If even half of Florida City’s estimated 8,400 population are registered voters, four thousand constituents doing the will of one mayor can make or break the campaign of, oh, say, a State Attorney running for re-election, for example.
Little wonder charges haven’t stuck.
That Otis Wallace is doing everything in his power to help a fellow politician stay out of trouble should raise eyebrows. Instead, it’s business as usual.
As everyone knows, when it comes to politics in Miami-Dade County, the politically powerful rarely get in trouble.
And even if charges do happen to stick, the politically powerful have Benedict P. Kuehne on speed dial.
Big Ben is defending Steven Bateman against the usual and customary public official felony charges and county ordinance violations of:
- Unlawful compensation as a reward for official behavior
- Exerting influence
- Exploitation of official position
- Conflict of interest
- Illegal lobbying and
- Miscellaneous campaign finance fraud misdemeanors.
If all of those charges sound familiar, they should.
They’re usually listed as “Career Accomplishments” on the resumes of Miami-Dade County politicians.
Kuehne is not only the disgraced Homestead mayor’s criminal defense attorney, but his office is also the repository for the “Help Steve Bateman Get Out Of Jail Free Campaign.”
Since I read this article this morning, I’ve been thinking that there are so many things wrong with this picture that it almost defies description.
Ben Kuehne I understand. He’s doing what criminal lawyers do for a living … practicing what is possibly the third oldest profession. Kuehne is obviously at the top of his game or he wouldn’t be in such high demand by those who practice the second oldest. (We all know what the oldest is, right?)
But for the life of me, I cannot fathom how anyone in Florida City still supports (and, worse, re-elects!) Otis Wallace. Especially in light of his very public fundraising effort for the defense of the alleged criminal activities of another elected official.
Are we as a society beyond the point of seeing anything wrong with all of this? Have we become so inured to corrupt elected officials that we don’t even blink anymore when politicians (and their criminal lawyers) behave badly?
In answer to the last person who, only yesterday, asked me if I ever considered running for office, umm …
“Spreading the Wealth”