Ever since the feds raided its government offices on March 10, 2016, South Florida’s shadiest little city has become the national poster child for public corruption.
One of the targets of the investigation is Opa-locka Commissioner Terence Pinder. But if he didn’t already have enough problems with the FBI and the SEC, he’s about to face an even tougher adversary.
South Florida’s butt kicking crime fighter, United States Attorney Wilfredo “Take No Prisoners” Ferrer just advised that he’s holding a press conference today at 2:00 p.m. to “announce the filing of federal and state charges against retail store owners and operators in connection with schemes to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash. The schemes are alleged to have been carried out at local food stores, including stands at [the] Opa-Locka Hialeah Flea Market.”
According to a Miami Herald article published on April 2, 2016, Terence Pinder is the marketing director of the Opa-locka Flea Market, a/k/a Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market.
I’m sure Pinder’s go-to criminal lawyer, Benedict P. Kuehne, is already on standby.
UPDATE: The U.S. Attorney arrested and charged 22 defendants this afternoon for federal food stamp fraud. Terence Pinder was not one of them. You can read the press release by clicking here.
Meanwhile the federal criminal probe into Opa-locka’s rampant public corruption is still ongoing.
In what is sure to become an award winning series (Click for Part 1 and Part 2), CBS Miami’s Jim Defede scored an exclusive must-watch interview with the man at the center of the investigation, Frank Zambrana. Mr. Zambrana’s personal story is absolutely heartbreaking. He lost two sons during his courageous three year battle to bring Opa-locka’s corrupt public officials to justice. His unwavering tenacity, however, has given a glimmer of hope to South Floridians who are sick and tired of the unchecked public corruption in our local government.
Two of the major players in this saga, Terence Pinder and Dante Starks, have been on my radar for years. Both of their names came up during North Miami’s now infamous Sidewalk-Gate in October of 2012. When city vendor IMECO, Inc. was hired to clean the sidewalks, its general manager, Faustin Denis, Jr., had been standing trial on federal racketeering (RICO) charges since 2009 along with his co-defendants, Terence Pinder and Dante Starks.
In February of 2014, RICO charges were dropped on all three in exchange for agreeing to plea deals on lesser charges.
But the 2009 arrest for racketeering wasn’t Terence Pinder’s first rodeo.
On September 14, 2007, the Miami New Times reported that he was arrested in November of 2006 and “charged with, among other things, hiring a dead man and wooing women at cheesy restaurants on his city credit card.” The article aptly noted that “Terence Pinder symbolizes all that is wrong in the city of Opa-locka.” That arrest led to his removal from office by then-Governor Jeb Bush.
As I pointed out on April 14, 2014 in The Three Racketeers Ride Again, once Starks and Pinder were “exonerated” of RICO charges, it was back to business as usual.
Dante Starks promptly resumed his role as Opa-locka’s unofficial lobbyist, “in an unpaid capacity,” as quoted by a Miami Herald article published at the time (and unfortunately, no longer online).
Terence Pinder went on to run for office and win his seat back on the Opa-locka city commission in November of 2014. Almost immediately he thanked voters by bilking them for $5,000.00 toward his legal fees when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disbarred him from participating in federal contracts for his private business, which I reported in Elections have consequences.
Their “investment” eventually paid off because on March 30, 2015, the EPA removed the ban, according to the Miami Herald, which reported, “At a special meeting Monday, Pinder voted for the first time to approve the newly established process for considering bids for the city’s $40 million revolving loan to fix wastewater, pothole and sewage issues.”
Ironically, that loan is one of the many debts that Opa-locka can’t repay since it’s now on the verge of financial collapse and facing a shutdown, as reported by CBS Miami just four days ago.
No one should be surprised that both Terence Pinder and Dante Starks are in trouble again.
It should also come as no surprise that Opa-locka’s mayor, Myra Taylor, is a primary target of this investigation.
In 2004, the long time mayor was arrested for federal tax fraud, placed on probation, and forced out of office. And yet, the voters of Opa-locka gave her another chance by re-electing her in 2010.
Yes. Elections really do have consequences.
Another familiar name that might surface in this probe is Kelvin Baker. As of now, the FBI hasn’t released all the names on their list of suspects under investigation as yet. But I fully expect the former North Miami Beach/current Lauderdale Lakes city manager to be implicated in this scandal.
On July 3, 2012 in Mr. Baker Goes to Opa-locka, I wrote, “A year and some months after former City Manager Kelvin Baker got the boot from North Miami Beach, he managed to find a job in the one city in south Florida where being corrupt is a job requirement – Opa-Locka.”
Kelvin Baker resigned as its city manager on July 22, 2015. According to a Miami Herald article dated March 10, 2016, less than seven months after Baker left, the feds raided the Opa-locka Municipal Complex after a two-year investigation. If Baker were to deny any knowledge of the blatantly rampant corruption going on around him for the three years he ran Opa-locka, it would defy all logic.
It would also not be surprising if Kelvin Baker is called to testify before the grand jury considering that the Miami Herald already named his long time crony, Susan Gooding-Liburd, as a witness. This former finance director worked with Baker in North Miami Beach, followed him to Opa-locka, and eventually to Lauderdale Lakes.
Public corruption doesn’t happen in a vacuum. These fraudsters travel in packs, sometimes from city to city, to fill their insatiable need to scam the public coffers for their personal gain.
Terence Pinder may symbolize all that is wrong in the city of Opa-locka, but Opa-locka symbolizes all that is wrong in South Florida government.
“Spreading the Wealth”