|NOW SHOWING: MAGIC CITY MADHOUSE|
A gripping tale of political intrigue and suspected criminal misconduct
This past December a lawsuit was filed in Miami’s federal court. It was unusual in several ways.
First, it was filed by a public official, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who named as defendants two other public officials, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. The suit makes 16 claims against them, plus two of Fernandez Rundle’s employees, ranging from civil rights violations to malicious prosecution to racketeering.
Lawsuits like this are rare because public officials are broadly protected by immunity granted to them while performing their sworn duties. Attorneys for the defendants make exactly that point in their responses to the lawsuit. “At all times germane to the events giving rise to this action, Rundle was the State Attorney,” Fernandez Rundle’s attorneys write. “And because she was the State Attorney, Rundle is immune from suit for any conduct that was intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process or that did not violate any clearly established statutory or constitutional right that a reasonable person would have known of.”
The well-established precedent of immunity aside, Spence-Jones’s lawsuit takes direct aim at the four defendants’ conduct in office.
The court action is unusual in another way: Unlike most legal documents, it is written with great dramatic flair -- so much so, in fact, that we’ve decided to publish some 12,000 words from it.
That’s less than half the complete lawsuit, which also distinguishes it. This is a very, very lengthy and detailed court pleading, available in its entirety (PDF), along with defendants’ responses from Katherine Fernandez Rundle (PDF) and Tomás Regalado (PDF).
The commissioner’s lawsuit is beginning to work its way through the judicial system at the same time another political drama is unfolding in Miami, also involving Spence-Jones and Regalado, along with Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and others.
That highly charged drama revolves around federally mandated redistricting of the City of Miami’s commission districts. Every decade, following completion the U.S. Census, voting districts at all levels (federal, state, and local) must be evaluated using criteria outlined in the federal Voting Rights Act and, locally, in Florida state law.
Demographic changes over the previous ten-year period often result in the need to adjust district boundaries. That is exactly what is under way now in Miami’s District 2 (Sarnoff) and District 5 (Spence-Jones). The stakes are high and so are the emotions. Please click for Erik Bojnansky’s article “Power in Numbers.”
-- Jim Mullin, Biscayne Times editor
This case arises from a shocking, nefarious scheme by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to remove Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones from her elected position as Miami City Commissioner.
Serving as the investigatory, police, and prosecutorial arm of the mayor, Rundle, aided by assistant prosecutor Richard Scruggs and investigator Robert Fielder, manufactured false evidence, hid and withheld exculpatory evidence, intimidated and manipulated witnesses, defamed Spence-Jones, and repeatedly attempted to manipulate the political process in a corrupt attempt to remove, arrest, imprison, and forever ruin a dedicated Miami public servant.
And when the scheme unraveled, when the witnesses realized they had been lied to, when the exonerative evidence could no longer be suppressed, Rundle and her team covered up their own wrongdoing, recklessly and falsely accusing Spence-Jones and her well-respected defense counsel of yet more crimes, to the entire world.
The primary players in this fraudulent enterprise were, first, the mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado, Spence-Jones’s political rival, who was unable to control Spence-Jones’s critical vote on the powerful Miami City Commission.
Second, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Regalado’s friend and political ally, who shared a web of cozy connections and dealings with the mayor. Rundle took a personal interest in the downfall of Spence-Jones, repeatedly defaming her in public, overseeing her investigations and arrests, and manipulating the criminal process and interfering in internal commission politics to keep Spence-Jones off the commission.
In the notorious assistant prosecutor Richard Scruggs, Rundle found the perfect right-hand man to destroy Spence-Jones. Scruggs had been criminally charged by a foreign government, found “clearly negligent” by the U.S. Department of Justice for his handling of the Waco investigation, criticized by Florida courts for “very unprofessional” conduct and withholding of evidence from the defense, and even carried a personal vendetta against Spence-Jones’s defense lawyer. In their efforts, Rundle and Scruggs were aided by their investigator, Robert Fielder.
This civil-rights action seeks damages for defendants’ conspiracy, a conspiracy that involved manufacturing evidence and concocting baseless corruption charges in two separate cases: the Armando Codina case, and the Barbara Carey-Shuler case.
In the Codina case, the Office of the State Attorney for Miami-Dade County (SAO) told Codina that Spence-Jones was a thief, had stolen his money, and had induced him to contribute to a nonexistent charity as part of a nonexistent charity event. Each and every statement was a deliberate lie. But it took years to unravel these lies, years while Spence-Jones remained falsely accused of bribery and grand theft, years while she remained off the commission. When Codina finally learned about the SAO’s deception, he publicly pronounced the prosecutor [Scruggs] a “serial liar.”
In the Carey-Shuler case, the SAO had definitive proof that…Carey-Shuler had authorized payment to a company affiliated with Spence-Jones for a neighborhood rebuilding project. Instead, the SAO hid the documents and falsely told Carey-Shuler that Spence-Jones had forged her name and stolen from Miami-Dade County.
It took years to unravel these lies, years of persistent, dogged investigation by Spence-Jones’s lawyer, Peter Raben. As Carey-Shuler’s lawyer later said after defendants’ scheme unraveled, the SAO “lied to her [Shuler],” too.
Defendants perpetrated quite a scheme: two contrived political corruption cases, both relying on a star witness the SAO Defendants lied to and manipulated, both who later learned that prosecutors tricked and defrauded them. But the goal in both cases was the same: Remove Spence-Jones from the commission, and ruin her as a potent political force and rival of the mayor.
Even by the sometimes sordid standards of Miami politics, the Rundle-Regalado conspiracy stands out for its brazenness. As a result of defendants’ prosecution-laden brand of power politics, Spence-Jones’s life was virtually destroyed. She lost her liberty, her job, her reputation. Her constituents lost a powerful voice for the people of Miami. For nearly two long, lonely years, Michelle Spence-Jones fought to reclaim her liberty and her good name. Now it is time the people who perpetrated this outrageous injustice finally be held to account.
Spence-Jones Is Elected Commissioner; Popular with Her Constituents, Unpopular with Regalado
In 2005 Spence-Jones was elected commissioner for District 5 in the City of Miami. In that election, Spence-Jones defeated Richard Dunn in a run-off vote.
The Miami City Commission is a powerful and important legislative body in Miami. The commission can pass ordinances and adopt regulations. There are only five commissioners in Miami, each serving one of five districts in the City of Miami. Commissioners are re-elected every four years.
District 5 is largely African American, and one of the poorest districts in the City of Miami. Spence-Jones, who is also African American, was a powerful voice for her community. She quickly developed a reputation for independence and loyalty to her constituents, often fighting powerful, moneyed, and entrenched interests for the sake of what she believed to be the good of her district and the city.
From late 2001 through 2009, Manny Diaz was the mayor of Miami. During part of his tenure, and before Spence-Jones was elected a commissioner, she worked for Mayor Diaz as a city employee. When Spence-Jones became commissioner in 2005, she and Mayor Diaz were political allies.
For example, Spence-Jones and Diaz worked together on low-income-housing and economic-development projects in Spence-Jones’s district, and on parks initiatives.
Regalado also served as a city commissioner during the 2005-2009 period. Regalado came from a somewhat different school of politics than Spence-Jones, a school based on friendship, patronage, and political favors.
Regalado and Diaz became political enemies, and fought frequently during Regalado’s tenure on the commission. Regalado was known as “Dr. No” on the dais: If Diaz and Spence-Jones favored a commission resolution or ordinance, Regalado was likely to vote “no.”
The commission had a delicate balance of power during the 2005-2009 period. A majority of three out of five votes was necessary to carry an item, and Spence-Jones was usually the swing vote on major issues before the commission. Commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Joe Sanchez were usually on the side of Mayor Diaz; Regalado and Marc Sarnoff (elected in November 2006) were usually on the other side. With Spence-Jones’s swing vote, Mayor Diaz’s initiatives usually carried the day.
In short, Spence-Jones was often the key vote on the commission, on important issues such as the Marlins stadium.
The Office of the State Attorney: Rundle for Over 19 Years
The Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney, 11th Judicial Circuit, is the prosecutorial office in Miami-Dade County, which includes the City of Miami.
On March 12, 1993, after being appointed to succeed Janet Reno (who left the position to become President Clinton’s Attorney General), Katherine Fernandez Rundle became the State Attorney, the top official at the SAO.
Rundle’s office, however, is an elected position. Since 1993 Rundle has been dependent on votes to maintain and continue her position as the State Attorney. Rundle has now been the State Attorney in charge of the SAO for over 19 years.
As the State Attorney, Rundle has had responsibility for overseeing every aspect of the SAO, including investigations run by Scruggs. Scruggs was a high-ranking prosecutor in the SAO’s public corruption unit until shortly after the SAO’s high-profile losses in the two cases against Michelle Spence-Jones.
Regalado and Rundle: A Team
Rundle was and is a close political ally of Regalado. They shared political interests, staff, and as set forth below, have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.
For example, Rundle and Regalado shared the same campaign consultant, Armando Gutierrez. Gutierrez was a long-time campaign consultant for Rundle. Gutierrez was Regalado’s campaign manager in his mayoral race.
Rundle’s close family friend, Ada Rojas, was also Regalado’s Community Relations Coordinator.
On information and belief, Regalado attended a fundraiser for Rundle, and they have appeared together at press conferences and other functions in Miami.
On information and belief, Regalado has previously promoted Rundle on the radio. A popular mayor, Regalado was an important politician whose voters, constituency, and support were very useful to Rundle, herself an elected official.
Regalado and Rundle’s special relationship has apparently progressed to the point of mutually beneficial, and highly questionable, quid-pro-quo arrangements. For example, Rundle has repeatedly refused to properly investigate allegations of criminality concerning Regalado.
In October 1999, Rundle closed out an investigation into allegations of grand theft based on the alleged misuse of a gas credit card by then-Commissioner Regalado. The SAO admitted that there was evidence of a “serious” issue concerning numerous charges to Regalado’s city-issued gas credit card from outside Miami’s borders, charges for which Regalado had no explanation, as well as a “discrepancy” in the amount of gas purchases as compared to the miles driven.
Yet Rundle closed the investigation without charging Regalado. She justified some of the discrepancies as caused by Regalado’s use of a gas-guzzling utility vehicle.
Regalado was only too happy to return the favor. For example, Regalado secretly pressed for a commission resolution to rename a 56-block road in the heart of Miami in Rundle’s honor. In 2008, the Florida state legislature passed a bill renaming of a portion of NW/SW 12th Avenue in Miami as “Katherine Fernandez Rundle Avenue.”
The Miami City Commission was required to ratify the renaming before the Florida Department of Transportation could post the new street signs. The commission did not ratify the bill in 2008, 2009, or 2010.
After the issue lay fallow for three years, Rundle’s office secretly asked Regalado to ensure that the commission ratify the bill. On January 18, 2011, Regalado secretly e-mailed the deputy city manager for the City of Miami to have the city commission pass a resolution naming the avenue after Rundle.
In his e-mail, Regalado pressed to “place [the Resolution] in the consent agenda for [the] next commission meeting.” Per Regalado’s demand, the item was placed on the March 10, 2011, city commission agenda.
When questioned by the Miami Herald, however, Regalado falsely denied having any role in the renaming of “Katherine Fernandez Rundle Avenue.”
Ultimately, Regalado’s role was revealed when the press obtained his January 18, 2011, e-mail.
On March 10, 2011, the commission voted 3-0 to approve the renaming of Katherine Fernandez Rundle Avenue. Rundle was not only living, but the chief prosecutor in the jurisdiction that included the mayor and the commission.
Just months after Regalado shepherded the renaming of “Katherine Fernandez Rundle Avenue,” Regalado was once again in criminal jeopardy.
In September 2011, after an investigation into campaign finance violations by Mayor Regalado and Raquel Regalado, his daughter and campaign finance manager, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) issued a report detailing the findings from its investigation. The FDLE investigation revealed blatant and criminal campaign violations that included forging campaign finance reports.
A forensic auditor with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (COE) outlined six violations of Chapter 106, Florida Statutes, by Regalado and his daughter.
COE director Joseph Centorino (a former prosecutor at the SAO) and SAO Assistant State Attorney Howard Rosen both believed that Regalado had acted “in apparent willful disregard for the rule of law.”
Rundle had previously recused herself from investigations of other politicians with whom she was close, including then-Mayor Joe Carollo, former city manager Donald Warshaw, and then-city Commissioner Johnny Winton.
But Rundle did not recuse herself in the Regalado case.
To the contrary, Rundle assumed responsibility for the investigation of her friend, ally, and recent road-renaming benefactor.
Despite substantial evidence of Regalado’s criminal wrongdoing, and the opinions of the director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust and her own Assistant State Attorney, Rundle did not file charges against Regalado.
Instead, Mayor Regalado and Raquel Regalado “agreed to pay a fine that was agreed at $5000 each for the violations enumerated,” as a civil penalty, without any criminal charge.
Rundle took no steps to force Regalado to resign.
In marked contrast, when Rundle believed that then-Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruce Kaplan had violated financial disclosure rules, she extracted Kaplan’s resignation and a promise not to seek re-election as part of a plea bargain.
In short, even as Rundle concocted a false bribery charge against Spence-Jones related to a street naming [in downtown Miami], Rundle herself failed to pursue any criminal charges against the very mayor who had just helped rename an avenue after herself, notwithstanding his “apparent willful disregard for the rule of law.”
Defendants Prepare Their Scheme to Arrest Spence-Jones and Kick Her Off the Commission
With this understanding of Regalado, Rundle, and Scruggs, we turn to the defendants’ scheme to remove Spence-Jones from the commission and eliminate her as an opponent of the mayor.
In the fall of 2009, then-Commissioner Regalado was running to be mayor of the City of Miami, and Spence-Jones was running for re-election as a District 5 commissioner, both elections to occur on November 3, 2009.
Regalado was not merely running for mayor. Aided by Rundle and the SAO, Regalado was also scheming to control the commission.
On multiple occasions in the fall of 2009, during election season, the SAO’s office contacted the City of Miami Office of the City Attorney concerning numerous internal commission matters, including the procedure for filling a vacancy on the city commission under the Miami City Charter, how many commissioners would constitute a quorum sufficient to replace any commissioners that were suspended, and when an elected commissioner’s term of office officially begins.
The SAO had no legitimate reason to contact the Office of the City Attorney about any of these questions.
For example, in or about August/September 2009, SAO Chief Deputy José Arrojo contacted a high-level lawyer at the Office of the City Attorney to schedule a meeting
At the SAO, Arrojo was the Chief Assistant of Special Prosecutions, reporting directly to Rundle. Arrojo requested that the meeting be discreet and secret.
At the meeting, Arrojo asked pointed questions concerning the Miami City Charter’s provisions for filling a vacancy on the city commission, including the appointment process, special elections, and how many commissioners would constitute a quorum.
This meeting was unusual and unprecedented.
After the “discreet” Arrojo meeting, another SAO prosecutor, Angelica Zayas, an appellate attorney at the SAO, called a high-level lawyer at the Office of the City Attorney, again with questions concerning the Miami City Charter’s provisions for filling vacancies on the city commission. Specifically, Zayas was concerned about whether two commissioners could constitute a quorum sufficient to appoint other commissioners. On information and belief, Rundle directed Arrojo and Zayas to make these inquiries.
In the weeks preceding the November 3, 2009, election, Rundle herself called the city attorney for the City of Miami, Julie Bru. Ms. Bru was the highest-ranking lawyer in the legal office for the City of Miami.
Rundle asked Bru exactly when a city commissioner takes office after an election pursuant to the Miami City Charter. (Under the charter, a commissioner takes office five days after the canvas of the ballots.)
Rundle had no legitimate reason to call Bru about any of these internal commission matters.
In these various conversations, the Office of the City Attorney informed Rundle and her team that, under the Miami City Charter, if a commissioner were suspended prior to the November 3, 2009, election, the suspension would only be in effect until the seat was filled in that election. In addition, if a commissioner were suspended in between the election and the swearing-in, the suspension would only be in effect for the few days until the swearing-in. However, if a commissioner were suspended after the swearing-in, the suspension would be in effect until the next general election, a year away.
For example, if Spence-Jones were elected on November 3, 2009, and took office on November 12, 2009, she would have to be suspended after taking office on November 12, 2009, in order for the suspension to be in effect for a year. If, however, she were suspended before November 12, the suspension would only last until November 12, at which point she would retake her suspended seat.
Rundle was keen to know exactly when Spence-Jones would take office. Rundle asked pointed questions as to the precise date after the election that a commissioner would officially take office.
While Rundle and her team were carefully preparing the timing for Spence-Jones’s arrest and suspension from the commission, Regalado was preparing for Spence- Jones’s arrest as well. For example, on information and belief in August 2009, long before Spence-Jones’s arrest, Regalado attended a meeting of the South Florida AFL-CIO in Miami. There, Regalado told the union members that Spence-Jones was “going to jail.”
Spence-Jones Is Elected, Sworn-In, and Promptly Arrested and Suspended
On November 3, 2009, Regalado was elected mayor of the City of Miami.
On November 3, 2009, elections for commissioner were held for Districts 3, 4, and 5 in the City of Miami. As of November 3, 2009, the state of the commission was as follows:
District 1: Angel Gonzalez, who represented District 1, remained a commissioner and was not up for re-election in November 2009. Gonzalez was a Regalado opponent.
District 2: Marc Sarnoff, who represented District 2, remained a commissioner and was not up for re-election in November 2009. Sarnoff was a Regalado ally.
District 3: On November 3, 2009, Frank Carollo was elected commissioner for District 3, which had been represented by Joe Sanchez.
District 4, which had been represented by Regalado, had no winner by majority vote. A run-off election between Francis Suarez and Manuel Reyes -- who each received between 40% and 45% of the vote -- was necessary.
District 5: On November 3, 2009, Spence-Jones was re-elected to a four-year term as commissioner for District 5, with an overwhelming 82.63% of the vote.
Thus, after the November 3, 2009, election, Spence-Jones and Gonzalez -- both rivals of the mayor -- were slated to fill two seats, Carollo was slated to fill the third, and Sarnoff, a Regalado ally, was slated to fill the fourth. The remaining seat, District 4, remained open, pending a run-off election.
Spence-Jones was due to be sworn into office on November 12, 2009.
Defendants, however, had other plans.
Regalado and Rundle, with the assistance of Scruggs and Fielder, conspired to arrest Spence-Jones in order to remove Regalado’s political opponent from elected office. Regalado was a driving force behind the scheme to fabricate false charges to remove Spence-Jones from office and continue to pursue those charges even where there was no evidence supporting them.
The scheme involved not only the Carey-Shuler and Codina frauds, which are extensively detailed, but has also included other baseless investigations of Spence-Jones by the SAO Defendants, over a period of a number of years, in a desperate attempt to produce any evidence which could lead to Spence-Jones’s removal from office.
Days before an arrest warrant was even issued for Spence-Jones, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist knew that Spence-Jones was going to be charged and arrested.
On November 10, 2009, two days before Spence-Jones’s swearing in, Governor Crist had in his files a document with a picture of Spence-Jones, listing three “felony” charges: “grand theft, organized scheme to defraud, money laundering.”
But Spence-Jones had not been charged with any crime as of November 10, 2009.
Rundle’s office had alerted Crist that Spence-Jones would be arrested.
Before the arrest, Rundle personally spoke with Governor Crist about removing Spence-Jones from the commission after her arrest.
Before the arrest, a high-level member of Crist’s staff also contacted the Office of the City Attorney, to inquire precisely when an elected Miami City commissioner would officially take office.
Regalado Prepares For Spence-Jones’s Arrest, and Tries To Destroy a Photograph
Before he was sworn in on November 11, 2009, Regalado was also well aware, via secret communications with Rundle, the SAO, and Crist, that Spence-Jones was going to be charged and arrested.
For example, after November 3, 2009, and, on information and belief, before November 12, 2009, Regalado’s new spokesman, Pat Santangelo, was at the Miami television studios of Island TV. In a conversation there, Santangelo stated that Spence-Jones was going to go to jail on corruption charges.
On November 11, 2009, Regalado was sworn in as mayor.
Governor Crist decided to attend Regalado’s swearing-in ceremony at city hall. Shortly before the ceremony, Spence-Jones sought to meet Crist, whom she had never met, and have a photo together. Spence-Jones was brought to a room in city hall with Regalado and Crist. Regalado and Crist were quite uncomfortable during the brief meeting. As between Crist, Regalado, and Spence-Jones, Spence-Jones was the only person unaware that the SAO Defendants were about to arrest her.
An official photographer for the City of Miami took a picture of Spence-Jones, Regalado, and Crist.
After the photograph, Spence-Jones left to attend Regalado’s swearing-in ceremony.
Regalado later told the city photographer to destroy that photograph.
In the entire career of the city photographer, no public official had ever told him to destroy a photograph.
Regalado’s demand was a violation of the Florida Public Records Act. The photograph of these public officials was a public record that could not be destroyed under Florida law.
The photographer, however, disobeyed Regalado’s request, and did not destroy the picture.
Rundle Times Spence-Jones’s Arrest Right After She Is Sworn-In
Between Spence-Jones’s election on November 3, and her planned swearing-in on November 12, Rundle was busy perfecting the scheme to arrest and remove Spence-Jones at just the right moment.
During this period, Rundle personally called Julie Bru, seeking to determine the precise date when Spence-Jones’s old term (2005-2009) would end, and when her new term (2009-2013) would begin. Bru informed Rundle that Spence-Jones’s new term would not begin until noon on the fifth day after the canvas of the ballots, which would be November 12.
That same day, just as planned, Rundle and the SAO filed an arrest affidavit and obtained an arrest warrant for Spence-Jones for grand theft, second degree, a felony.
Rundle forwarded Governor Crist the arrest affidavit by e-mail dated November 12, 2009.
On November 13, 2009, Spence-Jones turned herself in.
At the direction of the SAO Defendants, Spence-Jones was arrested, detained, booked, fingerprinted, and jailed in a holding cell.
Scruggs asked that corrections officers handcuff Spence-Jones while she was transported to the cell. Upon information and belief, Scruggs made that request in order to arrange a “perp walk” to further humiliate Spence-Jones.
An employee of the Miami-Dade Corrections Department rejected the request to handcuff Spence-Jones and rejected Scruggs’s request to transport Spence-Jones outside (i.e., a “perp walk”), saying it was not necessary.
Rundle Defames Spence-Jones
On November 13, 2009, Rundle held a press conference. Earlier that day, the SAO issued a press release -- which remains published on the SAO’s official website, available to anyone in Florida, the United States, or anywhere in the world with access to the Internet -- announcing that press conference.
The press conference served no legitimate prosecutorial purpose. Rather, the SAO Defendants intended to and did unfairly and improperly defame Spence-Jones, tar her reputation in the community and in the court of public opinion, and attempt to taint the jury pool that would eventually hear the SAO’s fraudulent case.
During the November 13, 2009, press conference, Rundle stated that Spence-Jones is “being charged with theft relating to her acts of redirecting county money for her personal use prior to her becoming a city commissioner, while she was working as a public servant for the City of Miami.”
Spence-Jones never committed any “acts” of “redirecting county money for her personal use.” The statement was deliberately and maliciously false and defamatory.
During the press conference, Rundle also stated that Spence-Jones “was not entitled to spend $50,000 that was supposed to go to two other entities for any other purpose.”
The statement was deliberately and maliciously false and defamatory.
Spence-Jones never spent money that was “supposed to go to two other entities”; the moneys in question were supposed to go the entity that received those moneys: an entity called Karym.
On November 20, 2009, Rundle -- both directly, and through her director of media relations -- sent e-mails to the largest newspaper in Miami, the Miami Herald, accusing Spence-Jones of stealing money.
First, Rundle authorized and approved statements sent to Miami Herald reporters stating that, in contrast to Spence-Jones, Commissioner Angel Gonzalez “didn’t steal any money.”
Referring to Spence-Jones, Rundle also wrote: “Why do some public servants steal from the public?”
Later that morning, and apparently not content to defame Spence-Jones to two Miami Herald reporters, Rundle personally e-mailed the same accusations against Spence-Jones to the editor of the Miami Herald editorial page.
These were deliberately false and malicious statements. Spence-Jones did not steal any money or steal from the public.
Crist Suspends Spence-Jones (Suspension #1)
On November 13, 2009, just one day after Spence-Jones’s swearing-in, Governor Crist issued Executive Order 09-248, immediately suspending Spence-Jones from her commission seat and depriving District 5 voters of their elected commissioner. The executive order cited, relied upon, and attached a deliberately false November 12, 2009, arrest affidavit of defendant Robert Fielder, an SAO employee and investigator.
Crist issued the executive order suspending Spence-Jones even before an Information or any charging document had been filed against her.
On November 13, 2009, prior to the issuance of the executive order, Governor Crist’s deputy general counsel requested a copy of the nonexistent charging document. Although there was no Information or Indictment, and no formal criminal charge had been filed against Spence-Jones, Crist suspended Spence-Jones anyway.
The rush to suspend Spence-Jones was irregular at best. For example, when Cape Coral Commissioner Eric Grill was arrested for three felonies on December 12, 2009, Crist told an assistant city attorney that he would not even consider issuing an executive order suspending him until the State Attorney filed formal charges. Grill was only suspended on February 24, 2010, after a formal Information was filed.
Rundle and Regalado Attempt to Manipulate the Composition of the Commission
As set forth below, Spence-Jones’s arrest warrant was based on a November 12, 2009, affidavit of defendant Robert Fielder, an SAO employee and investigator.
The Fielder affidavit, in turn, was allegedly based on a September 18, 2009, subpoenaed sworn statement by Barbara Carey-Shuler, the product of Fielder and Scruggs’s conspiracy to withhold and fabricate evidence.
Rundle and her co-conspirators, however, waited almost two months after the Carey-Shuler statement to arrest Spence-Jones.
The timing of Spence-Jones’s arrest -- immediately after she was sworn in as commissioner -- was no accident. It was part of defendants’ conspiracy to manipulate the commission for political reasons.
Prosecutors told the media that the SAO purposefully waited until after Spence-Jones was elected to arrest Spence-Jones.
Defendants’ plan was (i) to remove Spence-Jones from the commission; (ii) to remove Spence-Jones’s ally and another Regalado opponent, Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, from the commission; (iii) the remaining commissioners aligned with Regalado would appoint Richard Dunn, a Regalado ally, as commissioner to fill Spence-Jones’s seat; and (iv) Regalado-allied commissioners would appoint Wifredo Gort as commissioner to fill Angel Gonzalez’s seat. This would leave Regalado in total control of the commission, with Sarnoff (the chair appointed by Regalado), Dunn, and Gort reflecting three controlling votes of the five-member body.
A Snag: No Quorum to Replace Spence-Jones; a Ten-Day Deadline Expires
Defendants’ nefarious scheme almost worked.
As noted, on November 12, the SAO Defendants arrested Spence-Jones after she was sworn in, and on November 13, Crist suspended her.
Also on November 13, Rundle announced the charges against Commissioner Gonzalez. As part of the express terms of a plea deal with the SAO, Commissioner Gonzalez (i) resigned from office, effective November 16; (ii) agreed not to be a candidate in any special election to fill his own vacant seat; and (iii) agreed not to be a candidate for any county, state, or municipal office “through the close of the year 2010.”
Thus, as of November 13, 2009, defendants successfully removed both Spence-Jones and Gonzalez from office, leaving Commissioners Frank Carollo and Marc Sarnoff.
Defendants’ plan, however, hit a snag. At the time of Spence-Jones’s removal and Gonzalez’s forced resignation, District 4 remained open, because of the pending runoff election between Francis Suarez and candidate Manuel Reyes.
Thus, as of November 13, instead of three sitting commissioners on the commission, there were only two.
Absent a quorum of three, the commission could not vote at all, much less appoint Regalado’s allies to replace Spence-Jones and Gonzalez.
In addition, under the Miami Charter, the commission had only ten days from Spence-Jones’s removal, until November 23, 2009, to appoint a replacement for Spence-Jones. If the ten days lapsed, the people of District 5 would have another opportunity to vote in a special election for District 5 commissioner.
Even worse from defendants’ perspective, the people of District 5 would have another opportunity to vote for Spence-Jones.
This political development -- the lack of a quorum on the commission due to the run-off in District 4 -- was of great concern to Rundle and her co-conspirators.
Far from being a disinterested prosecutor, Rundle sought to intervene to fill the empty commission seats.
Rundle Tries to Manipulate the Commission
Rundle once again called the city attorney for the City of Miami, Julie Bru. Rundle had no legitimate reason to call Ms. Bru.
Rundle asked Bru to contact Gonzalez and ask him to return temporarily to the commission on Saturday November 14, 2009, before the effective date of his resignation.
Rundle wanted Gonzalez to return temporarily in order to create a three-commissioner quorum, so that the commission could appoint Regalado’s hand-picked successor to Spence-Jones.
Rundle had no legitimate reason to attempt to influence Ms. Bru on a commission matter, to create a quorum on the commission, or to help Regalado pick his ally to fill Spence-Jones’s seat.
Regalado Tries to Manipulate the Commission
Having failed to manipulate Gonzalez to return to the commission despite the plea deal Rundle orchestrated, and having failed to manipulate the composition of the commission to favor her co-conspirator Regalado, Rundle and Regalado took a second tack as part of their continuing conspiracy to control the city commission.
Regalado summoned Bru to a secret meeting at city hall on the weekend of November 14-15, 2009.
Such a meeting was unprecedented.
At the meeting were Regalado, Bru, and a city commissioner.
At the meeting, Regalado pressured Bru to disregard the Miami Charter and opine that the commission, even absent a quorum, could appoint a commissioner to fill Spence-Jones’s seat.
On November 16, 2009, Bru opined that the commission could not appoint Spence-Jones’s replacement because two commissioners are not a quorum.
On November 17, 2009, Francis Suarez, an ally of Regalado, won the run-off election for commissioner for District 4.
According to published reports, Regalado then allegedly pressured Miami city clerk Priscilla Thompson to expedite the certification results of the Suarez/Reyes run-off so the winner could be sworn in immediately, creating a three-member quorum to appoint Spence-Jones’s replacement before the ten-day deadline, on November 23. Thompson refused.
According to published reports, Regalado than pressured Bru again, this time to opine that Governor Crist could appoint Spence-Jones’s replacement on the city commission. According to published reports, Bru acquiesced this time, but Crist did not appoint a replacement.
On November 25, 2009, Suarez was sworn in.
As of November 25, the commission finally had a quorum: Suarez, Sarnoff, and Carollo.
But it was too late. The ten-day period under the Miami Charter to appoint Spence-Jones’s replacement lapsed on November 23, 2009. The commission was forced to call a special election to fill Spence-Jones’s seat.
On November 25, 2009, the commission scheduled District 5’s special election for January 12, 2010.
On November 25, 2009, the commission also voted to schedule a special election to fill Gonzalez’s District 1 seat. Apparently Regalado’s plan to appoint Gonzalez’s replacement also failed, because a member of the commission publicly admitted to discussing the replacement with other commissioners in private, violating Florida’s sunshine law and tainting any potential attempt by the commission to appoint Gonzalez’s replacement.
On November 25, 2009, Regalado appointed his ally, Commissioner Sarnoff, to be chair of the commission. By tradition, as the ranking member of the commission, but for her arrest and suspension, Spence-Jones should have been appointed as chair.
The Carey-Shuler Charge: Baseless and Based on Fabricated Evidence
In September 2004, Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler was chairperson of the 13-member Miami-Dade County Commission, which reviews development plans, regulates transportation services and systems, enforces building codes and zoning laws, and manages public health facilities, housing programs and cultural affairs for the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade County. In effect, she was in charge of a multibillion dollar County budget. One of the county commission’s responsibilities was also to fund and recommend budget allocations for the Metro-Miami Action Plan Trust (MMAP), an urban development agency with its own board.
Carey-Shuler and her office received numerous, perhaps hundreds, of budget requests. One proposal came from Karym Ventures, Inc., a private company founded by Spence-Jones’s family, for a neighborhood revitalization project called Café Soul. (Spence-Jones had not yet run for city commissioner.) Café Soul was an urban development program to stimulate the economy in the predominately African-American Liberty City area of Miami. It involved redevelopment of a crack house and had several components: a themed restaurant focusing on Southern cuisine, an art gallery, a hair salon, and an entertainment space.
Carey-Shuler knew Spence-Jones personally and had confidence that Spence-Jones would make Café Soul a success.
On September 23, 2004, Carey-Shuler recommended that MMAP provide funding for Café Soul. As part of a long county commission session involving dozens of budget allocations, the commission, at least according to some MMAP staff, apparently recommended, mistakenly, that the funds be directed to two entities partnering with Karym on the project: Timbuktu Marketplace and Osun Village.
After Spence-Jones informed Carey-Shuler of the mistake, Carey-Shuler took steps to direct the $50,000 to Karym, the entity meant to oversee the development of the Café Soul project.
On February 15, 2005, Carey-Shuler directed the final version of [a] letter [she had edited by hand] to be signed and sent to MMAP, and directed MMAP to provide the $50,000 to Karym.
On February 16, 2005, MMAP’s independent board voted 10-1 to spend $50,000 in MMAP funds to Karym. Karym used that money to develop Café Soul.
The SAO Defendants…had both Carey-Shuler’s final signed letter and her two drafts with extensive handwritten edits prior to taking a sworn statement of Carey-Shuler on September 18, 2009.
Not to be deterred by the truth, the SAO Defendants…perpetrated an outlandish and false story in which Carey-Shuler directed funds to Timbuktu Marketplace and Osun Village, Spence-Jones forged Carey-Shuler’s signature, and secretly redirected funds to Karym, and then Spence-Jones stole the money.
On September 10, 2009, Scruggs and Fielder met with Carey-Shuler and her attorney. First, Scruggs threatened Carey-Shuler. Scruggs accused Carey-Shuler of receiving cash payments in return for her support for development deals on the county commission. This was no idle threat, as Scruggs and the SAO already had a history of targeting Carey-Shuler for prosecution.
Having accused Carey-Shuler of receiving bribes and being a criminal, Scruggs then outright lied to Carey-Shuler. Scruggs falsely and maliciously told Carey-Shuler that Spence-Jones had…had simply stolen the county/MMAP money meant for the Café Soul project.
In questioning Carey-Shuler, it became clear that Carey-Shuler had forgotten about her decisions [more than four years earlier] about the Café Soul funding, including her decision to direct the $50,000 to Karym.
By threatening, lying to, and misleading the chief prosecution witness, and withholding the key pieces of exculpatory evidence, the SAO Defendants induced Carey-Shuler to make a sworn statement on September 18, 2009, falsely implicating Spence-Jones in a scheme to take County money improperly, without her authorization. In a further effort to hide and advance this corrupt scheme, Scruggs also instructed Carey-Shuler to keep quiet about their meeting.
Raben Deposes Carey-Shuler; Carey-Shuler Learns She Was Deceived; the SAO Defendants Continue to Pursue the Fraudulent Case
Notwithstanding Scruggs’s insistence and representation that the nine boxes he produced to Spence-Jones included all Carey-Shuler files relevant to the Shuler case, Raben demanded access to all Carey-Shuler files in the SAO’s possession, including 43 boxes the SAO Defendants previously withheld.
Raben, Spence-Jones, and noted members of the community went to the county warehouse to review the remainder of the Carey-Shuler boxes. As requested by the county, the door to the room in which Raben and others viewed the file was kept open, so the review was visible to county staff.
Within less than 20 minutes after reviewing the boxes never produced by Scruggs, Raben and Spence-Jones found a folder clearly labeled “Café Soul.” In the Café Soul file were, among other documents, the two drafts of the February 15, 2005, letter, replete with Carey-Shuler’s handwritten edits to the letter authorizing payment of $50,000 to Karym.
On June 21, 2010, Raben deposed Carey-Shuler. During her deposition, Raben showed Carey-Shuler the drafts of her February 15 letter to MMAP that Scruggs and Fielder had withheld from Carey-Shuler.
Carey-Shuler immediately realized that the handwriting was hers and that she did instruct that MMAP provide funding to Karym.
When Carey-Shuler was shown the drafts of her letter, she realized that Scruggs had defrauded her: “He tricked me,” she said.
After the documents were finally revealed and the defendants’ Carey-Shuler-related fraud was exposed, Rundle, Scruggs, and the SAO Defendants attempted to cover up their own fraud by claiming, falsely and maliciously, that Spence-Jones and her counsel fabricated, forged, and planted these two exonerative documents in the county file.
Spence-Jones Is Re-Elected; Crist Suspends Her Again (Suspension #2)
As noted above, because the ten-day period to appoint Spence-Jones’s replacement lapsed on November 23, 2009, the commission was forced to call a special election to fill Spence-Jones’s seat.
The commission scheduled a special election for January 12, 2010, to fill both the temporary vacancy created by Spence-Jones’s suspension and the permanent vacancy created by Gonzalez’s resignation.
To defendants’ horror, and notwithstanding her arrest, Spence-Jones ran again for office to refill her own seat.
On December 19, 2009, Governor Crist threatened that, if Spence-Jones won the special election, he would disregard the will of the voters again, suspend Spence-Jones again, and require yet another special election.
In anticipation of the special election, on January 4, 2010, Spence-Jones filed suit against Governor Crist in the circuit court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Dade County, Florida (“the ACLU case”).
The ACLU case sought to enjoin Crist from suspending Spence-Jones for the second time if she were re-elected on January 12.
On January 12, 2010, Spence-Jones indeed won the special election for District 5. Spence-Jones won by a 53% majority vote in a race with nine candidates.
On January 12, 2010, Regalado’s ally, Wifredo Gort, won the special election for Angel Gonzalez’s seat, in District 1.
On January 14, 2010, two days after Spence-Jones won the special election, Crist issued Executive Order 10-05, suspending Spence-Jones upon her assumption of office for the second time.
The executive order was effective upon Spence-Jones’s assumption of office.
Spence-Jones was to hold office beginning January 16, 2010, after the city clerk completed the vote canvas and transmitted the official results.
Thus, Spence-Jones was suspended, for the second time, effective January 16, 2010.
A Second Race Against Time; District 5 Loses Its Vote Again; “Magic City” For Regalado
Once again, defendants faced a ten-day deadline under the city charter -- until January 26, 2010 -- for the commission to appoint Spence-Jones’s replacement, or face another special election in District 5 (which Spence-Jones almost undoubtedly would have won).
This time, however, defendants had a quorum in the commission, of four votes.
On January 19, 2010, Gort was sworn in as a commissioner.
On January 26, 2010, the commission held a “Special Meeting” attended by Commissioners Sarnoff, Carollo, Gort, and Suarez, and by Mayor Regalado.
This was the tenth day after Spence-Jones’s suspension. To prevent District 5 from voting in another special election, the commission had to appoint Spence-Jones’s replacement no later than midnight.
Regalado was extremely eager to get the appointment done by midnight, avoid an election, and prevent Spence-Jones from returning to the commission.
Regalado began by addressing the commission: “[T]he only thing that I’m asking you guys is to do everything before midnight, because as you know, today is the deadline for the appointment of the person.”
Regalado continued: “It’s been too long without anyone representing the district, so hopefully, today we will do the right thing for the people of District 5…. We’ll be here listening and participating and hoping that we can have resolution before midnight, because if not, we have to go to the other process that the city charter calls for.”
The “other process” is an election, by voters of District 5, for their commissioner.
The “other process,” voting, had led to Spence-Jones’s election twice, in November 2009, and in January 2010.
After a discussion among the commissioners as to the propriety of appointing a commissioner instead of permitting voters to choose their own commissioner, the commission entertained applications from various candidates, then comments from the public concerning who should replace Spence-Jones.
Instead, in an outpouring of support for Spence-Jones, many citizens implored the commission to respect the will of the voters, and decried the entire appointment process.
The commission then voted, ultimately appointing Richard Dunn to replace Spence-Jones.
Regalado, apparently fulfilling his promise to “be here listening and participating and hoping that we can have resolution before midnight,” could not contain his euphoria.
Following the appointment, Regalado again addressed the commission that night. This time, he sat behind the dais of the commission, as if he were a commissioner. In fact, Regalado sat in Spence-Jones’s own seat.
Having engineered Spence-Jones’s removal and replacement with his own commissioner, and now literally occupying Spence-Jones’s own chair, Regalado told the commission: “I am so proud of you…. You understand the right thing to do. You understand deadlines.”
Regalado then noted that he himself had previously nominated Commissioner Dunn.
Regalado then stated, addressing Dunn: “[N]ow with your leadership, we will be able to move forward and you’ll be part of the hard decisions, and hopefully, those hard decisions will be 5 to 0. We have come into the era of 5-0 and not 3-2 or 4-1 in the City of Miami commission. It’s working together for the Magic City. Thank you, guys. Thank you, Richard. Thank you very much. Thank you, you all, for being here.”
The commission adjourned at 11:18 p.m., 42 minutes before Regalado’s “deadline,” 42 minutes before the voters of District 5 would have had the right to elect their own commissioner.
Regalado’s victory was complete. Through the dogged intervention of the SAO Defendants, the fraudulent investigation, arrest, detention, imprisonment, and Information, Regalado had finally swept Spence-Jones off the commission once and for all. Or so defendants thought.
Spence-Jones and Her Constituents Sue to Regain the Commission Seat
On January 26, 2010, Spence-Jones filed a five-count amended complaint, alleging that Crist’s second suspension violated the Florida Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union intervened in the Spence-Jones case, seeking a permanent injunction against Spence-Jones’s suspension. The ACLU was joined by five City of Miami District 5 voters who voted for Spence-Jones in the January 12, 2010, special election, as intervener-plaintiffs.
On February 26, 2010, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Platzer held a conference. At the conference, Judge Platzer delivered shocking news to defendants: They would almost surely lose the ACLU case, and Spence-Jones would have to be reinstated to the commission.
Judge Platzer stated: “I don’t believe the governor is permitted…to have suspended [Spence-Jones,] because I believe that the provision requires an Indictment…. [A]n Indictment is different than an Information, and she was not charged. She was charged by Information and she was not indicted, or an Indictment was not returned against her.”
Judge Platzer stated she would rule “within…ten days. And if I can do it sooner, I will.”
A Third Race Against Time; the SAO Indicts; Crist Suspends Spence-Jones Again (Suspension #3)
Suddenly, defendants were faced, again, with a race against time. Notwithstanding their repeated, fraudulent manipulation of the political process, defendants faced the prospect of Spence-Jones’s imminent return to the commission.
As a result, defendants conspired, yet again, to trump up fraudulent charges against Spence-Jones.
Defendants’ first plan was to sidestep Judge Platzer’s imminent ruling by charging Spence-Jones by Indictment instead of Information.
The SAO Defendants did not even hide the true goal and intent of the Indictment: to keep Spence-Jones off the commission. For example, SAO prosecutor Joseph Centorino, chief of the SAO’s public corruption unit, told an attorney for Spence-Jones that the ACLU lawsuit served no purpose, stating in sum and substance: “It’s a waste of time, all we have to do is indict.”
Scruggs flatly told a prosecution witness that the SAO would indict Spence-Jones to keep her off the commission.
Given that there was already an Information, indicting Spence-Jones served no prosecutorial purpose; it did not advance the criminal case.
The sole purpose of the Indictment was to aid Regalado by ensuring that his political opponent remained off the Miami City Commission.
There was nothing legitimate about the SAO’s Indictment: it was a naked, overt, and blatant attempt to manipulate the political process in the City of Miami.
Indicting Spence-Jones on a mere grand theft charge was also highly unusual.
Asked about the purpose of indicting Spence-Jones, Rundle stated publicly: “It just seemed logical to go ahead and get an Indictment by a grand jury.” The only “logical” reason, however, was to keep Spence-Jones off the commission.
On March 3, 2010, at the SAO’s request, a grand jury returned an Indictment [against Spence-Jones] in the Carey-Shuler case, for grand theft, conveniently replacing the November 2, 2009, Information. The Indictment was based on the same fraud and improper withholding of evidence as the arrest affidavit and the Information.
This Indictment was a mere five days after Judge Platzer presaged that Spence-Jones would be permitted to return to the commission absent an Indictment, and five days before Judge Platzer’s end date for a formal ruling.
The day after the Indictment, Crist issued a third executive order concerning Spence-Jones. Executive Order 10-61, filed March 4, 2010, purported to “amend” Executive Order 10-05 to “reflect that the suspension of Michelle Spence-Jones….is further supported” by the Indictment.
In subsequent briefing in the ACLU case, Crist’s counsel argued that the Indictment rendered the ACLU case “moot.” The governor argued that “the voters [in the January 2010 special election] could not have reviewed [Spence-Jones’s] suspension due to the Indictment where [Spence-Jones] had previously been charged by Information.”
Defendants’ scheme succeeded. On April 5, 2010, in light of the intervening Indictment, Judge Platzer dismissed the ACLU case as moot, and did not reinstate Spence-Jones to the commission.
Defendants finally appeared to have achieved their goal: removing Spence-Jones from the commission, permanently.
The Codina Case: Another Case, Another Fraud
Realizing, however, that the Carey-Shuler case was based on their own deliberate fraud, the SAO Defendants this time sought an insurance policy, bringing an entirely separate Indictment against Spence-Jones on March 3, 2010 (“the Codina case”).
The very day that Spence-Jones won the special election, January 12, 2010, the SAO Defendants met with Armando Codina to concoct a separate baseless claim against Spence-Jones.
Just as in the Carey-Shuler case, Rundle, Scruggs, and Fielder knew that there was no probable cause to charge Spence-Jones in the Codina case.
Like the Carey-Shuler case, however, the Codina case was from the beginning based on a deliberate fraud and series of fabrications and attempts to manufacture nonexistent probable cause by the SAO Defendants.
The Renaming of Southeast Second Avenue
The Codina case allegedly stemmed from events that occurred in the spring of 2006. Armando Codina is a prominent developer in Miami and a generous philanthropist.
In March 2006, the developers of an office and hotel complex in downtown Miami sought a change to the name of the street address for their proposed complex to aid in marketing. They sought to change the name from “Southeast Second Avenue” to Brickell Avenue. On information and belief, Codina did not own any property on the street whose name might be changed.
On March 23, 2006, the Miami City Commission met about a number of matters, including the name change. The street was in Commissioner Johnny Winton’s district.
Accordingly, Commissioner Winton was seen as the key vote on this proposal. On a vote that had little citywide impact, such as this one, the other commissioners generally deferred to the view of commissioner whose district was directly affected, and almost always voted unanimously.
On this trivial issue of no relevance to her district and minimal relevance to the city, Spence-Jones intended to defer to Commissioner Winton’s view of the Brickell Avenue proposal.
At the March 23, 2006 commission meeting, Spence-Jones told Commissioner Winton on the record that she “concur[red] with” him and “would definitely…defer to you [Winton] on this item [the street renaming].”
Because Commissioner Winton was not prepared to vote on the Brickell Avenue proposal on March 23, it was postponed to a future meeting and the commissioners did not vote on the matter.
On March 29, 2006, city attorney Rafael Rivas-Suarez opined that the city commission did not even have jurisdiction to change the name of a state road. The commission never voted on the street-naming issue.
Months before March 2006, the City of Miami had planned a benefit in the Lyric Theater in honor of Barbara Carey-Shuler, who had retired from the Miami-Dade County Commission. The event was scheduled for April 3, 2006. Two commissioners -- city Commissioner Spence-Jones and county Commissioner Audrey Edmonson -- were tasked to host the event in her honor, and to benefit a charity called the Friends of MLK. Friends of MLK was a charity whose mission was to advance the vision and goals of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a co-sponsor of the event.
Spence-Jones’s office undertook the fundraising for this official City of Miami benefit. Her staff invited dozens of people to the benefit, including prominent philanthropists, community leaders, and business persons.
Codina had previously donated moneys to a charity that Spence-Jones was involved in, and he was known as a businessperson who prided himself in giving back to the community.
Codina had also been dear friends with Carey-Shuler’s late-husband, and knew Carey-Shuler for some 15 to 20 years.
Codina was also on the board of Burger King, one of the principal sponsors of the benefit.
An assistant in Spence-Jones’s office contacted a number of people, including Codina, to see whether they would consider contributing to the Friends of MLK charity. At Codina’s request, Spence-Jones’s office followed up with an explanatory, March 30, 2006, e-mail describing the charity and the event. The subject of the e-mail was “Reclaim & Build the Dream Reception Honoring Dr. Barbara Carey-Shule[r].” The e-mail stated: “Thanks again for your time and support of the MLK Trust Fund,” noted the involvement of the Dade Community Foundation, and referred to a “special reception, to our hometown hero Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler, for her humanitarian efforts in promoting the dreams of Dr. King as well as addressing the needs of the residents of our great city[.]”
During this brief charitable solicitation, the assistant never mentioned the trivial street matter pending before the commission. The follow-up e-mail also made no mention of the matter. The assistant never promised or even implied any “tit for tat” based on Codina’s contribution to the charity. Codina did not speak to Spence-Jones prior to making the donation.
The assistant also explained that Friends of MLK was not yet incorporated, and that the charitable donation would be deposited at the Dade Community Foundation, the leading fiscal sponsor for unincorporated nonprofits in the Miami-Dade area. The Dade Community Foundation supports budding nonprofits in registering with the IRS and complying with its regulations.
Spence-Jones’s office also informed Codina that Burger King was sponsoring the event.
Codina donated $12,500 to the Friends of MLK Trust Fund.
Codina made the charitable contribution because of his dear friendship with Carey-Shuler’s late husband, because Burger King was a sponsor of the event (and Codina was on Burger King’s board), because he was a prominent philanthropist, because it was a charitable cause, and because the money would be deposited with and administered by the Dade Community Foundation, one of the most reputable organizations in Miami.
On April 3, 2006, the Friends of MLK organization held the City of Miami charity function in honor of Carey-Shuler at the Lyric Theater. It was an enormous success.
Checks for the charity, including Codina’s check, were deposited with the Dade Community Foundation.
There was nothing secret about the Codina Group’s charitable contribution: the Codina Group, Burger King, and others were publicly recognized as sponsors at the benefit.
The SAO Defendants, however, saw in this publicly recognized charitable contribution by a prominent philanthropist and friend of the honoree an opportunity to concoct yet another fraudulent investigation and charge against Spence-Jones.
The SAO Defendants Intimidate and Falsely Accuse Codina
This time, the SAO Defendants fabricated evidence in an effort to claim that the $12,500 Codina donated to a charity was actually a bribe to influence Spence-Jones’s nonexistent vote to change the name of a street in someone else’s district.
On or about January 6, 2010, Fielder called Codina on the phone while he was driving with his wife on highway I-95.
This was just six days before Spence-Jones’s special election to the seat she had lost as a result of the SAO’s arrest.
Fielder told Codina: “We have you on tape on a bribery case.”
That was a deliberate and malicious falsehood, intended to intimidate and manipulate Codina in order to persuade him to implicate Spence-Jones in a crime.
The SAO did not have any evidence of Codina being involved in a bribe, on tape or otherwise.
In that phone call, Fielder also told Codina that Codina had made donations to a “fund controlled by Michelle Spence-Jones.”
That was a deliberate and malicious falsehood: Spence-Jones did not control any fund to which Codina donated.
Codina said that he “better get a lawyer,” and Fielder agreed, stating, “We’ve got an issue here.”
Knowing there was no bribe, no wrongdoing, and not even a commission vote, Scruggs and Fielder concocted an alternate reality in order to induce Codina to implicate Spence-Jones in a crime.
Just as they had in the Carey-Shuler case, the SAO Defendants lied to, manipulated, and withheld evidence from the chief prosecution witness, this time Codina, in an effort to manufacture probable cause to arrest and then charge Spence-Jones.
On February 16, 2011, Scruggs deposed Codina.
The Codina deposition was likely one of the most extraordinary in the history of the State of Florida.
Codina testified that, before meeting Scruggs in January 2010, he believed he had “given a charitable contribution for funds to be spent by the Dade Community Foundation at an event…in honor of Barbara Carey-Shuler.”
When Codina met with Scruggs, however, Scruggs told him “there had not been an event.”
As Codina said to Scruggs during Codina’s sworn deposition: “You told me that there had not been an event. You told me that the charity was a fake and that she had used the money as her own piggybank, so I was distraught when I was here. I was convinced that the flier had been a fake, that no event had taken place and that she had pocketed the money.”
Codina explained, however, that he had since learned that Scruggs had deceived him: “Since that time, I know that there was an event. There was an event that was well attended…. It was an event where we were recognized…. I found out that my check was deposited at the Dade Community Foundation, so if I had known those facts when I was here, I wouldn’t have expressed some of the emotions that I expressed at the time.”
Rather than ask questions, as lawyers usually do at depositions, Scruggs essentially testified on the record, in his own defense. Scruggs admitted that he knew, when he met Codina in January 2010, that there had been a charitable event. Scruggs also admitted that he knew, when he met Codina, that Codina’s check had been deposited at the Dade Community Foundation.
During Codina’s deposition, Scruggs claimed that Codina’s clear recollection of their meeting was a simple “misunderstanding.”
Codina insisted that there was no misunderstanding: “Mr. Scruggs, you unequivocally told me there had not been an event and that [Spence-Jones] had used the money as a piggybank.”
The Trial: Codina Case Is Exposed to the World as a Fraud
The Codina case [against Spence-Jones]…lasted from February 28, 2011, to March 16, 2011.
In the middle of the trial, on March 10, 2011, the commission voted 3-0 to approve the naming of “Katherine Fernandez Rundle Avenue.”
The SAO Defendants knew the Codina case was hopeless. As one assistant state attorney wrote in an internal e-mail: “If we win this case, it will be a miracle of God.”
During the criminal trial, Codina again testified about Scruggs’s deceit.
Codina testified that Scruggs told him “in no uncertain terms…that no event had taken place at the Lyric Theater, that the charity was a sham, and that Michelle Spence-Jones had used the money as her own piggy bank.”
Codina explained that he “believed Mr. Scruggs” and was “convinced that there had not been an event, that the charity was a fake, and my money had been pocketed by Michelle Spence-Jones.”
As a result of the SAO Defendants’ lies, Codina was “ashamed [and] thought Ms. Spence-Jones had duped [him].” He felt “intimidated” by the SAO, because “knowing all of that -- that I gave the check anyway.”
Codina testified, however, that he ultimately found out that there was a well-attended event at which he was recognized and two of his executives attended. Codina further learned that his check was deposited with the Dade Community Foundation.
Codina later told reporters that Scruggs had “purposely misled” him.
Codina also testified, at this supposed trial about bribery and grand theft, that there was no bribe and no theft. Codina testified that “it was not a ‘tit for tat.’ If I thought for a second it had been, I would not have given the check.”
On March 16, 2011, after deliberating for fewer than 90 minutes after an over two-week trial, the jury acquitted Spence-Jones on all counts.
Scruggs’s Personal Vendetta Against Raben; Rundle: “Boys Will Be Boys”
Scruggs admitted that his baseless pursuit of Spence-Jones was also based, in part, on a personal vendetta against Spence-Jones’s criminal counsel, Peter Raben.
Fielder’s deposition was scheduled for May 27, 2010. When Raben sought to confirm the deposition time, Scruggs did not respond. In a May 27 telephone call, Raben asked Scruggs why he had not responded. Scruggs said: “I don’t have to fucking call you.”
Raben queried him on his lack of professionalism.
Scruggs said: “You made a false accusation against me that caused me a lot of grief in the community.” He further stated: “And until I do that to you, and we are even, then I will continue to have a problem with you.”
On the record at the deposition that day, Raben stated that he did not want to begin Fielder’s deposition before resolving whether Scruggs would continue to remain on the case, given his statement that he wanted to “get even” with defense counsel.
Scruggs responded to Raben on the record: “What, are you upset? Did I hurt your feelings? Do you want to call my mother?”
Later that day, Raben wrote to Rundle and relayed Scruggs’s unprofessional and irresponsible statements. Raben wrote: “This prosecutor has expressed a vendetta against me. It is an embarrassment and disgrace that he should be allowed to remain in this position.” Raben asked that Scruggs be removed from the case.
Rundle refused to remove Scruggs from the case. Instead, Rundle told Raben in a subsequent phone call: “Boys will be boys.”
Regalado-Rundle’s Back-Door Meeting; Machinations to Extend the Carey-Shuler Case
After the Codina case collapsed, defendants’ only remaining way to keep Spence-Jones off the commission was the fraudulent Carey-Shuler case, now discredited by Carey-Shuler herself. From its inception, the Shuler case lacked probable cause. The SAO Defendants had the documents disproving their case from the beginning. After Carey-Shuler’s deposition on June 21, 2010, it was painfully obvious the case was a sham.
Given that Carey-Shuler testified in June 2010 that she authorized the funds, why did the case continue through August 2011? The same reason defendants launched the case in the first instance: to keep Spence-Jones off the commission for as long as possible.
In the summer of 2011, Regalado visited Rundle at the SAO’s office. Regalado and Rundle intended the meeting to be secret.
In order to avoid a written, public record of the secret meeting, Regalado was snuck into the SAO building, and did not go through the normal identification process.
On information and belief, in this secret, back-door meeting, Regalado and Rundle discussed how they could continue the fraudulent prosecution against Spence-Jones, in order to keep her from regaining her seat on the commission.
Regalado was intent on keeping Spence-Jones off the commission for multiple reasons. He knew he did not and could not control her vote. Most pressingly, Regalado was intent on firing the Miami police [chief], Miguel Exposito, which ultimately would require a majority vote on the commission. This was a high-profile political issue in Miami, and Regalado was concerned that Spence-Jones would vote against his decision to fire Exposito.
Regalado sought to fire Exposito in retaliation for Exposito’s decision to raid more than a dozen locations containing maquinitas, or illegal gambling machines. On information and belief, Regalado was and is a close ally of companies that build, operate, or market these illegal gambling machines, and received large campaign contributions from these companies and business owners.
Rundle had her own reasons to ensure that Exposito was fired. In January 2011, he had criticized her for prosecutorial delays in investigating fatal shootings by police officers.
In May 2010, he also accused her of dropping a public-corruption case against the grandson of civic leader Georgia Ayers, in order to curry favor with Ms. Ayers.
As Exposito later described Rundle: “The problem I have with her is that she is very aggressive against certain politicians or government workers, yet with others she takes the soft approach. She gives you all the reasons in the world to not go after them…. I think she needs to go.”
On information and belief, during the summer 2011 meeting, Regalado and Rundle conspired to postpone dismissing the Indictment [against Spence-Jones in the Carey-Shuler case] until at least after the commission voted on Exposito’s removal.
On July 8, 2011, at Rundle’s direction, Scruggs sent an e-mail to Raben demanding that Spence-Jones make certain statements in return for dropping the [Carey-Shuler] case. Rundle and Scruggs knew there was no basis to pursue the Carey-Shuler case, and that they had no right to make any demands in return for dismissing a fraudulent case.
As a condition of the SAO’s decision to drop the fraudulent case, Rundle and Scruggs demanded that Spence-Jones “accept responsibility” for “regrettable” actions. Rundle and Scruggs also demanded Spence-Jones admit there was “probable cause” for a “fair prosecution.”
Spence-Jones refused to make these false statements.
Yet even once the SAO’s office agreed to a dismissal, they attempted to delay in order to delay Spence-Jones’s return to the commission until after the Exposito vote.
As part of her arrangement with Regalado, Rundle repeatedly sought to delay an August 24, 2011, court date, so that she could postpone dismissing the case. Spence- Jones’s counsel forced her hand, and refused.
On August 23, 2011, the day before the August 24 court conference, the SAO Defendants finally filed a nolle prosequi to dismiss the Carey-Shuler case.
Two Years in the Wilderness: A Public Servant in Ruins
As a direct result of defendants’ conspiracy, Spence-Jones has been gravely injured. Michelle Spence-Jones was kept out of office for nearly two years, unable to serve her district or the people of Miami. She lost her liberty. She lost her income. She incurred legal fees to defend herself against the baseless prosecutions. Her business and personal reputation was severely damaged. She suffered immense emotional, psychological, and physical distress as a result of this entire ordeal. The incident almost destroyed her life and her family. As a result of what the defendants did, Michelle Spence-Jones lost two years of her life.
During those years, and still today, Rundle remains the State Attorney for Miami-Dade County.
During those years, and still today, Regalado remains the mayor of Miami.
After both of the prosecution’s lead witnesses -- Barbara Carey-Shuler and Armando Codina -- described Scruggs as a liar who deceived them, and after both cases against Spence-Jones were revealed as a complete and utter sham, Scruggs was removed from the public-corruption unit of the SAO and transferred into a different unit. However, Scruggs today remains at the SAO, employed by Rundle, with power to investigate, arrest, imprison, and prosecute.
After the criminal cases collapsed, the new governor of Florida was forced by law to reinstate Spence-Jones as the commissioner for District 5. Spence-Jones today is a commissioner again, vulnerable once again to the ongoing conspiracy by Rundle and her co-conspirators to remove Spence-Jones, apparently at any cost.
Volume 14, Issue 10, December 2016
Some recommended stops on the mad dash through Miami’s Art Week
Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible