A ritzy South Beach nightclub facing hefty fines – even potential closure – over code violations. A chief code inspector willing to accept bribes to look the other way. A club owner incensed enough to turn to the FBI. An ensuing seven-month undercover investigation replete with wiretapped phone calls and secretly-recorded encounters – in restaurants, in cars, in a restroom. An ever-expanding cast of characters, with additional bragging, bribe-taking inspectors entering the scene. Envelopes stuffed with money; pay-offs surpassing $25,000.
Here, extracted from the affidavit of federal prosecutors, the SunPost presents a timeline of crookedness that, in the week since it broke, has shaken City Hall, stunned the public, and unveiled, in all their sordidness, the corrupt practices of city employees gone bad.
(In the week since the scandal broke, the writer has learned and verified the nightclub’s identity from reports by other news media and through his own independent research. It is revealed here, despite that the government’s affidavit does not disclose the club’s name.
On or about Fri., June 3, 2011
Lead Code Compliance Administrator Jose Alberto comes to Dolce Ultra Lounge (1501 Collins Ave.) and tells the club’s owner that flyers promoting a Dolce event were found on city streets and sidewalks. This, Alberto informs him, is a code violation that will result in a $20,000 to $30,000 fine.
The owner says the nightclub has been struggling and that he does not have that kind of money; are there other options? Alberto replies that he can offer to reduce the fine if money is provided to him to take care of 10 to 11 of “my guys.” The owner offers $1,500. Alberto says he won’t accept less than $3,000 to take care of himself and five others.
On or about Mon., June 6, 2011
The owner receives a phone call from Alberto, requesting a meeting. Alberto comes to Dolce and tells the owner the problem is bigger than anticipated; fines would be $40,000 to $50,000. Alberto says he needs to be paid $3,000 by Friday of that week. The owner says he needs the weekend to make money at the club; Alberto agrees to be paid the following Monday (June 13).
On or about Tues., June 7, 2011
Alberto returns to Dolce and tells its owner that City of Miami Beach officials “hate” the owner – according to the affidavit – and want Dolce shut down. The owner assures Alberto he will pay him $3,000 on Monday.
On or about Thurs., June 9, 2011
An FBI investigation begins when Dolce’s owner comes to the agency to complain about Alberto’s extortion. The FBI directs him to make the pay-off.
Mon., June 13, 2011, 12:20 p.m.
THE FIRST PAY-OFF
Dolce’s owner, at the direction of the FBI, meets with Alberto at the club. The owner gives Alberto an envelope containing $2,500 in cash in exchange for Alberto’s agreement to drop the fine, the first in a series of pay-offs over the ensuing months. This is the first of their meetings that is both audio- and video-recorded by the FBI.
Alberto, wearing a shirt emblazoned with ‘CITY OF MIAMI BEACH,’ tells the owner that everything “was good” and that if the owner should happen to get a future violation notice, he should “come see me and I will close it.”
In the same meeting, the owner asks if Alberto can help him with a past tax debt owed to the city. Alberto says he will check into it.
Fri., June 17, 2011
In a phone call monitored by the FBI, the owner tells Alberto that he plans on operating Dolce that night.
ALBERTO: Let me tell you. I talked to the people that work at the night time.
OWNER: Uh huh?
ALBERTO: So, uh, don’t worry, you are good, okay?
ALBERTO: But they want me to, well – you know what’s up.
In this exchange, according to the FBI, Alberto indicates to the owner that he has spoken with other Code Compliance inspectors who work the night shift, and that the owner will not be hassled by them if they come around that night. But Alberto will require another pay-off for the others.
Later, that evening, Alberto comes to Dolce and tells the owner that he would like to see him on Monday for another pay-off.
That night, Dolce receives no visits or inspections from Code Compliance.
Mon., June 20, 2011, 11:33 a.m.
Alberto and Dolce’s owner meet inside the club’s office. The owner pays Alberto $2,000, the second pay-off. The FBI records everything.
There’s little he can do personally about the club’s outstanding tax debt, Alberto tells the owner, but another city employee – who remains anonymous in the federal complaint – “might be able to help” with the debt. Alberto supplies the owner with that employee’s phone number and tells him that he (Alberto) will call the employee and tell him or her to expect the owner’s call.
In the same meeting comes the following exchange:
ALBERTO: So, when do you have another party set up? Because every time you have a party, I have to tell the night shift to make sure that they help you.
OWNER: They were real good this week.
ALBERTO: I know.
OWNER: Not even the Fire [department] came in.
ALBERTO: I know, I know. I took care of everybody – but I got to get them now.
OWNER: No problem.
ALBERTO: But you need to let me know every time you are gonna have something.
OWNER: This Friday I have something.
ALBERTO: Okay. So we’ll do something. I’ll tell them another $500.
Because of the outstanding tax debt, Alberto tells the owner that “my orders are to close you, but I am not following ‘em.”
Later in their talk, the owner asks if he would have any issues with Code Compliance on Friday night.
ALBERTO: I will take care of the people again. I’ll take care of them. I’ll tell them, “Friday, one more.”
Thurs., June 23, 2011, 5:49 p.m.
The owner, at the FBI’s direction, calls Alberto, who says he has “already talked to the people that work nights and told them the same thing this week.” Alberto also says that because Dolce would be open only on Friday and not Saturday, “on Monday, he [the owner] could do [pay] a little bit less.” The two arrange to meet the following Monday (June 27).
Fri., June 24, 2011
Dolce, open tonight, gets no visits or inspections from Code Compliance.
Mon., June 27, 2011, 2:18 p.m.
The owner, at the FBI’s direction, meets with Alberto at the club. The two again discuss the tax debt and the anonymous city employee who can supposedly take care of it. Alberto says he needs to confer with the employee about the matter.
ALBERTO: The other issue is that, uh, for this weekend, you know, I gotta take care of the people that help people.
OWNER: How much you need?
ALBERTO: Less than last time. I mean, uh, they were happy with the last one, they were very happy. But, uh, I was thinking like fifteen hundred. Or one, if you have one, whatever. How much did you have?
OWNER: To be honest with you, I have, like, five here, and another 6 belong to somebody else.
ALBERTO: You have like eleven hundred?
OWNER: Eleven hundred total.
ALBERTO: That’s fine.
OWNER: I didn’t have –
ALBERTO: – that’s fine, I’ll give that. They’re happy with the last one. So, on Monday, when I saw them, they were happy. So, you know, that’s fine.
OWNER: It was just slow.
ALBERTO: It was slow?
OWNER: Very slow. It was –
ALBERTO: – I don’t know ’cause I wasn’t here, so I don’t know.
OWNER: It was raining.
ALBERTO: Oh, it was?
OWNER: So –
ALBERTO: Nobody came through, right? Nobody bother you?
OWNER: No, just Fire guys came in.
ALBERTO: But they didn’t cite you at all?
OWNER: No, we, we didn’t have maybe 300, 400 people. So –
ALBERTO: Hmm, well I’ll take care of them. I’ll take care of them.
OWNER: I wish I had larger bills, but –
ALBERTO: No, no that’s fine. That’s fine. And if you’re gonna open this week again, we’ll do 500 or whatever. You know?
ALBERTO: ‘Cause I think I gave them enough already.
Alberto and the owner then discuss how to deal with the anonymous city employee about the tax debt. When the owner says he will “take care of him” –
ALBERTO: No, you can’t take care of him. No! He’s by the book. Don’t even tell him that you are meeting with me. Don’t. Nothing.
Alberto explains that the tax debt matter needs to be addressed because –
ALBERTO: You can’t be open without that fixed. Legally, anyway. They want me to close you. They think you are closed, you know? Nobody’s reporting you are open.
The two then discuss the owner’s desire to install a new outside sign.
At meeting’s end, the owner asks Alberto, “I’m safe this week?” to which Alberto responds, “You should be, yeah. I got you.”
In this meeting, the owner gives Alberto a third pay-off, this one $1,100 in cash.
Tues., July 5, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto a fourth pay-off, this one of $500.
ALBERTO: So this Friday and Saturday again and we’ll do it.
OWNER: Thank you. $500?
ALBERTO: That’s fine. That’s fine.
Thurs., July 7, 2011
Owner sends Alberto a text message: “Am I good for the weekend?” Alberto replies, “Yes you’re the best.”
Mon., July 11, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto a fifth pay-off, this one of $1,000.
Mon., July 18, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto a sixth pay-off, this one of $500.
During this meeting, the owner tells Alberto, “Thank you for this weekend. They didn’t show up. Nobody.” To which Alberto replies, “I know.”
Mon., July 25, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto a seventh pay-off, this one of $1,000.
ALBERTO: No problems, right?
OWNER: No. Thank you. Not the fire department. Not you guys.
Mon., Aug. 1, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto an eighth pay-off, this one of $500.
Sat., Aug. 6, 2011
FIRE INSPECTOR FOOTMAN MEETS THE OWNER
Miami Beach fire inspector Chai Footman, in his uniform, drops by Dolce, accompanied by another fire inspector. They are there to conduct an inspection.
Footman speaks to the owner; he says he wants to come party at the nightclub the following week.
Mon., Aug. 8, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto a ninth pay-off, this one of $500.
Wed., Aug. 10, 2011
The owner speaks to Footman by phone, inviting him to come to the club on Friday. Footman says he will be there and will bring three women with him.
Fri., Aug. 12, 2011
Footman and his group come to Dolce. Footman tells the owner that he will help protect the club from any fire inspections. Throughout the evening, Footman and his party are provided with $3,633 in food and drinks, free of charge.
Mon., Aug. 15, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto another $500 pay-off – No. 10.
Fri., Aug. 19, 2011
THE PAY-OFFS TO FOOTMAN BEGIN
Footman goes to the club to meet the owner and is introduced to the club’s new manager – who is really an undercover FBI agent.
The owner and “manager” explain that they need to increase the club’s occupancy level. Footman gives them ideas on how to increase the level by removing furniture.
FOOTMAN: Your biggest concern is getting a ticket – a violation – and here is the thing, and I am gonna be frank with you. If you look at it, we never really ever come over here at all to do inspections. The only time when an inspector shows up is usually when it’s me, correct?
“Would you be able to give me a heads up if it wasn’t you coming?” the “manager” asks Footman.
“I do it already,” Footman replies.
The “manager” again asks if Footman will look out for them. “You’re good, you’re good,” Footman reassures him. He isn’t “out trying to bust people,” the firemen explains. “If you are wrong, you are wrong – but I know you are trying to build up and I don’t have a problem with that.”
The owner leaves. Footman gives the “manager” his phone number. The “manager” says that he is a Miami outsider and that new out-of-state investors have put money into the club to improve club operations and to try to get Dolce back on track.
Footman indicates he will speak to a fire marshal in regards to the occupancy level and inform her that the “manager” is “his boy.” The more profitable a business is, Footman explains, “the better off it is for me.”
The more profitable the club is, the “manager” replies, the more Footman could “come through” any time that he is there, meaning Footman would receive drinks without charge.
FOOTMAN: That’s how it is with [a separate Miami Beach nightclub, unidentified in the complaint] and that is why we look out for them.
The “manager” tells Footman he wants him on “his team” and that the club appears to have issues with the city.
Dolce’s owner had created problems for himself by “trying to fight the city,” says Footman. You cannot beat the city, he elaborates, “’cause they can come here almost every week and create problems every week.”
The “manager” tells Footman that he told the club’s owner –
“MANAGER”: You gotta do favors for people, you gotta take care of people. It’s a dirty game, but you gotta do it.
FOOTMAN: To be honest with you, it don’t even really take that much. It doesn’t. I mean, ’cause I ain’t looking for no hand-out, like, “you gotta pay me.” I just wanna hang out and party and chill. You know, I ain’t looking for that. I’m just not a dick. I look out as much as I can. I ain’t looking for cash.
“MANAGER”: Well, if you look out for me, I will look out for you. That’s how I like to do things.
The “manager” then informs Footman that some of the club’s employees had complained about the free drinks and food that Footman had received the previous Friday night. To settle that, the “manager” says he will give the fireman cash so that he can pay his own bill at the club.
FOOTMAN: I got you man, ain’t no worries. I got you on whatever – I got you. As much as I can do without making it obvious.
Are you having any problems with Code or Building? he asks.
I’m having problems with everything, replies the “manager.”
I will see what I can do, reassures the fireman.
The “manager” pays Footman $900 in cash, but the fireman returns the money, saying, “What I would rather for you to do is do that without that camera there” – referring to the security surveillance cam inside the club’s office. The two retreat to a nearby restroom where Footman is again given the cash.
Footman then enters the club area and orders drinks before leaving.
Fri., Aug. 26, 2011
FOOTMAN INTRODUCES A CO-WORKER
Footman brings a fellow Miami Beach firefighter – unidentified in the affidavit – to Dolce to meet the “manager.” Like Footman, this firefighter conducts fire inspections in city nightclubs. The trio discuss increasing the club’s occupancy and other topics, but not pay-offs.
Mon., Aug. 29, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto another $500 pay-off – No. 11.
Fri., Sept. 2, 2011
Footman meets with the “manager” at the club. The “manager” asks Footman about the fire inspector he met the week before, suggesting he was “stiff.”
“Yeah,” Footman responds, “because he don’t know.” But, he adds, “he would never come here and shut the club down.”
The majority of “these dudes,” Footman explains, referring to his fellow inspectors, would not shut the club down. However, he adds, there is one inspector who might be a problem – but he would not be out that night.
“MANAGER”: Who’s working tonight?
FOOTMAN: It was supposed to be me. But, the, um, you see the old dude that I have – you’ve never seen him. It’s an older cat that I have with me sometimes. He’s working. But I can tell you right now, he ain’t coming by here. He ain’t coming in here.
“MANAGER”: So, I am good tonight?
FOOTMAN: Yeah. You perfect. Listen, I am telling you, you’re not gonna see anybody. ‘Cause the thing is, this club is off the main strip, in a sense. Like, it’s not on Washington. And it’s not like north of 21st St. on Collins. So they not gonna come in here. Unless some craziness happens, where, you have, like, some major fire in here or some foolishness.
“MANAGER”: Can you call the dude and tell him like, “I came by and everything is good, make sure you don’t come over here.”? Can you do that for me?
FOOTMAN: Yeah. Yeah.
“MANAGER”: All right. It’s gonna be a big night for us and I don’t want any trouble.
FOOTMAN: Listen, you gonna be fine. Trust me. Trust me. And if someone does show up, you can call me and tell me. And I can call them and [unintelligible].
At meeting’s end, the “manager” gives Footman $400, saying, “I appreciate all the love you’ve been showing me.”
Before taking the money, Footman points to the office camera.
It’s off, the “manager” assures him.
“Really dog? Really man?”
Tues., Sept. 6, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto another $500 pay-off – No. 12.
Mon., Sept. 12, 2011
The “manager” and Footman speak by phone. They discuss recent allegations in the news media of bribery and prostitution tainting the University of Miami football program.
FOOTMAN: Hey, that’s why I was asking about that camera sh– ’cause I didn’t want to get caught [unintelligible].”
Will Footman be working the following weekend? asks the “manager.”
FOOTMAN: I may be working this Friday. If not, it’s [the other fire inspector].
Later in the conversation, when asked again, Footman says that if he is not working that weekend, “it’s [the other inspector]. Then you know you don’t got no problems. It’s all good.”
Fri., Sept. 16, 2011
Footman comes to Dolce to meet with the “manager,” who tells him that he needs help getting a permit for an outdoor sign. Footman replies that he knows a City of Miami Beach employee who can help and will put that employee in touch with the “manager.”
If it works out, says the “manager,” he will put that employee “on the team,” referring metaphorically to pay-offs. According to the FBI’s affidavit, the “manager” later contacted, met with, and made a $250 cash pay-off to this city employee in order to get the sign permit.
At meeting’s end, the “manager” asks if he should expect the other fire inspector that night. Footman says he will find out.
Put him “on the team,” the “manager” suggests.
FOOTMAN: Don’t do that.
“MANAGER”: Why not?
FOOTMAN: ‘Cause he will be spooked. Just be cool – he gonna look out for you ’cause I told you [unintelligible].
Fri., Sept. 30, 2011
Footman returns to the club to meet with the “manager,” who gives him $2,500 in cash. One thousand of it, the “manager” explains, is for referring him to the city employee to help obtain the sign permit. Five hundred is for “looking out for the club.”
Accepting the money, Footman declares, “This almost seems crazy.”
“This come from your boss?” Footman asks. It came from the investors, replies the “manager.” The two then discuss Footman possibly meeting the investors.
Also, this day, Dolce’s owner gives Alberto another $500 pay-off – No. 13 for the city’s lead Code Compliance inspector.
Mon., Oct. 3, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto another $500 – Pay-off No. 14.
Tues., Oct. 11, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto another $500 – Pay-off No. 15.
Wed., Oct. 19, 2011
The “manager” and Footman speak by phone.
I am arranging for musical acts to perform for a Halloween party at Dolce, says the “manager.”
I will be working that night, Footman tells him, “so you should be good.”
Thurs., Oct. 20, 2011
The owner calls Alberto to ask if “I am good for tomorrow” – if there will be no hassle from Code Compliance.
ALBERTO: Yeah, of course, you good.
OWNER: It may be a little busier than usual, so –
ALBERTO: Okay, no problem. I will make sure.
Fri., Oct. 21, 2011, 9:23 p.m.
ALBERTO & GRANT COORDINATE PROTECTION OF THE CLUB
Alberto calls Willie Grant, a fellow code inspector, to tell him that Dolce “might have something tonight” –
ALBERTO: Make sure everything is smooth, and I’ll see you Monday, all right?
GRANT: All right.
ALBERTO: If there is any problems, you handle it yourself, you know what I’m saying?
GRANT: All right.
Mon., Oct. 24, 2011
Dolce’s owner gives Alberto another $500 – Pay-off No. 16.
Thurs., Oct. 27, 2011
FOOTMAN INTRODUCES FIRE INSPECTOR BRYANT
The “manager,” in a phone call to Footman, tells him that the city employee had let him down by not getting him the sign permit. Later that day, Footman calls the “manager” back to tell him that Henry Bryant, a fellow fire inspector, could help with the permit.
FOOTMAN: Henry will be able to play ball. He is a senior inspector. He may know other people in the city. I am pretty sure he does. He knows the ins and outs and stuff like that. When Henry’s working, he will have your back. Let him know what you are trying to do – everything. He is down. He’s real down.
Footman says he will have his colleague come by the club and meet the “manager.”
Fri., Oct. 28, 2011
Bryant, in his firefighter uniform, comes to Dolce. He enters with a fellow fireman. Bryant presents the “manager” his business card. The “manager” later contacts Bryant and they arrange to meet the next day.
Sat., Oct. 29, 2011
THE “MANAGER” MEETS WITH BRYANT
The “manager” and Bryant meet for lunch at a Beach restaurant, a rendezvous that is both audio- and video-recorded. Bryant is dressed in his city fire uniform.
I am the club’s new manager, the “manager” explains. New investors and I want to make the club successful but we’ve discovered that Dolce’s owner has problems with city officials. I’m trying to address these problems by putting together a “team” because I know that “you gotta take care of people.”
BRYANT: There ain’t too many people in the city that I don’t know. What exactly do you need done?
I need to increase the club’s occupancy limit, replies the “manager,” among other issues.
“MANAGER”: I don’t need any problems there when I come – like, when I am not there on the weekend and let’s say you are doing the inspections. We can’t handle another inspection issue there when the place is being shut down. I need someone to look out for the place to make sure that we won’t have any inspectors coming through there giving us a hard time, blah-blah-blah.
BRYANT: Why would they give you a hard time?
“MANAGER”: Because of the issues with the owner.
BRYANT: That’s right, that’s right.
“MANAGER”: Know what I am saying? I need to be able to call you and say, “Hey, Henry, I am not gonna be there this weekend, can you make sure [of] the occupancy?”
Bryant says that he will need to work with the supervisors of various city agencies. He has “worked with” the head of Code Compliance in the past. Asked who that is, Bryant replies, “Jose Alberto.”
BRYANT: I have worked with him for about 12 years, on every little gig that I had, ’cause, I mean, we kept a place open that had violated every f—ing rule in the law – but the guy was paying us four grand.
I want to do business, the “manager” tells Bryant. How much will it cost?
I need to know more about what is needed, Bryant responds.
BRYANT: I know, on the Code side, that is taken care of. On the PD side, you don’t need to worry about that, because I got that taken care of. The only thing that I am really concerned about is that – you know, because, I mean, you guys [are] big enough to run a legit business where you gonna make the people. So with the overcrowding issue, I am not really concerned with that either, because whenever there is a ticket, I’ll just call the people and say, “Hey, I need that ticket taken care of, rip it up.”
“MANAGER”: Oh, that’s beautiful. For me, for something like that, you let me know what you think, you know?
BRYANT: Well, this is, I tell you, this is what I do for certain people. It depends on who I tell. I don’t mind doing whatever it takes to get the job done, but there are certain parameters that I ask for. You know, in return.
“MANAGER”: What is that?
BRYANT: Well, a lot of people, they get their thing, and they get flamboyant. They cut their nose off to spite their face. And I tell ‘em, “You go to the city and you saying all this stuff? You make me work twice as hard and they ain’t giving me a penny more. You making me work twice as hard. This is crazy.”
“MANAGER”: I know we just getting to know each other, but I am not like that. The one thing I never want to do is bring heat when you doing me a favor. I don’t want to bring heat on you when you looking out for me.
Bryant explains that he has helped out a certain promoter in the past who had become “big in the system and then he became too big for his own pants.” Bryant backed away from the promoter. The promoter later came to Bryant for a favor, but Bryant refused because of the way he had been treated by him.
“MANAGER”: Can you look out for me on Saturdays, if something comes up, or whatever?
BRYANT: That’s not a problem. That will be taken care of.
Bryant adds that he will have someone come over to the club to begin working on the occupancy issue.
I will also need help with getting the city to approve my sign permit, the “manager” says.
I will be able to get the permit for you, Bryant assures him. I will be your “problem solver.”
At meeting’s end, the two arrange to exchange the required paperwork for the permit.
Later that same day, the “manager” and Footman speak by phone, discussing the former’s lunch meeting with Bryant.
The meeting “went real well,” relates the “manager.”
Footman asks if he had informed Bryant of what “you need done.”
Yes, he had, the “manager” replies; Bryant is the “real deal.” Thank you for putting me in touch with him, says the “manager.”
“I got your back,” Footman replies.
Bryant mentioned Alberto and that he “was real cool with him in Code,” the “manager” tells Footman. Adds the “manager”: Bryant knows a “whole bunch of people, so that’s gonna be good.”
I’m happy it worked out, Footman replies, but I don’t know Alberto. It’s best we keep everything compartmentalized so that the players don’t know what the others are doing.
Sun., Oct. 30, 2011
The “manager” turns the permit paperwork over to Bryant and later speaks to Footman by phone.
How was the meeting with Bryant? Footman asks him.
It went really well, replies the “manager”; Bryant is on the “team,” and “he gonna be a big-time asset, he knows a lot people.”
“Good, I am glad it worked out,” says Footman.
Footman tells the “manager” that he is working on finding a police officer who can join the “team.” He suggests that the “manager” ask Bryant if he knows of any officers.
Mon., Oct. 31, 2011
ALBERTO IS INTRODUCED TO THE “MANAGER”
Alberto, visiting the nightclub, is introduced to the “manager,” who tells him of the club’s attempt to get a sign permit.
“Let me know before you start going [to City Hall] on your own, because I will get you help,” Alberto says. He and the “manager” exchange phone numbers.
“Before you do any projects, come see me first,” Alberto reiterates. “That way it helps to go smoother.”
During the meeting, the club’s owner pays Alberto another $500. Alberto indicates that the club is good for the weekend.
Tues., Nov. 1, 2011
ALBERTO & THE “MANAGER” DINE
One day after their initial meeting, Alberto and the “manager” meet over a meal at a Beach restaurant, an encounter that is recorded by the feds.
“MANAGER”: I’m trying to build a team of people within the city that I can trust and can take care of. Make sure that I don’t have any issues.
ALBERTO: You got the right people in front of you.
The club “wasn’t supposed to be operating,” Alberto tells him. I am your “only friend right now,” he adds.
I will “take care of people” to make the club succeed, the “manager” tells him.
“As long as you ain’t no FBI or none of that sh–, we are straight,” replies Alberto.
Later in the conversation, Alberto says he will “hook [the “manager”] up with my guys who work at night” –
ALBERTO: ‘Cause they gonna be the ones to look out for – when I am sleeping – they’re the ones that are gonna be out here, you can call ‘em and get their numbers.
I trust these guys, Alberto adds. I’ve been working with them for years.
The “manager” and Alberto agree to meet again later that day.
ALBERTO INTRODUCES VASALLO & GRANT
Later that same day, Alberto reunites with the “manager” at the club. He brings with him Roman Vasallo and Grant, both from Code Compliance.
During the introductions, Alberto jokes that the “manager” works with the FBI. As phone numbers are being exchanged between the “manager” and his new Code acquaintances, Alberto says that Vasallo and Grant work the day shift.
ALBERTO: These motherf—ers, they run the city during the day. They let me know if anything is going on.
“When you gonna take care of me?” Alberto asks the “manager.”
Later this week, replies the “manager.”
“And then,” Alberto says, turning to his two Code subordinates, “I will pay you guys.”
As the trio of Code Compliance inspectors is about to leave, the “manager” warns, “I don’t want no bullsh–.”
GRANT: You be straight, we be straight.
Wed., Nov. 2, 2011
ALBERTO INTRODUCES GONZALEZ
Alberto picks up the “manager” at the club and drives him to meet Orlando Gonzalez, another Code Compliance officer, “an important guy to meet.”
Anything that happens at night, Alberto informs the “manager,” “you call him.”
Before they meet up with Gonzalez, Alberto tells the “manager” that he needs to set him up with Fire because “Fire [inspection] is a big problem for you guys.” I’ll put you in touch with Bryant regarding potential fire problems, Alberto tells him.
Alberto calls Bryant, unaware that the “manager” has already been dealing with Bryant. In that intercepted call, Alberto tells Bryant that he has a “friend” that he wants Bryant to meet. After the two discover that they are both talking about the “manager” of Dolce, Alberto tells Bryant he wants the “manager” to “know all the good people, you know what I’m saying?”
BRYANT: No, no, no, this one here is definitely good people, and this one here is definitely one that we need. You need to sit down with him already.
ALBERTO: I’m with him right now. We straight.
Alberto hands the phone to the “manager” and he and Bryant talk briefly.
After the call, Alberto tells the “manager” what he thinks about Bryant: “Henry is a good man” and he “comes through.”
Bryant knows everybody, says the “manager.” He’s been around a long time like you.
“Exactly,” Alberto replies, “that’s why the good people know each other.”
During the ride, the “manager” tells Alberto he has “something for you right now (a cash pay-off)” but you have to show me something to earn it.
“You open because of me,” Alberto responds. I have orders to shut you down.
I’ve promised my guys money for protecting Dolce, Alberto adds. If there are any code issues in the future, you need to see me. The other Code inspectors follow orders from me. If there are any problems at the club, Grant and Vasallo will deal with them.
Alberto receives a $1,000 cash pay-off.
Parking the car outside an apartment building, Alberto phones Gonzalez to tell him to come outside. Gonzalez appears and Alberto introduces him to the “manager,” telling Gonzalez that the “manager” will call him if he has any issues. The “manager” and Gonzalez arrange for Gonzalez to come by Dolce, when the latter is on duty.
Alberto and the “manager” then get back into the car and leave.
In a phone call later, Bryant, referring to the “manager’s” meeting with Alberto, says “you got the right one.”
BRYANT: Don’t go to the bottom, go to the top. I wanted to make sure you got to the head. I know that he will play ball, I have dealt with him before. When you got me, you got a whole bunch.
Sat., Nov. 5, 2011
Gonzalez comes to Dolce to meet the “manager.”
GONZALEZ: When calls come in or whatever happens, I am the one who will control it – no matter what supervisor is on the shift – boom, I jump it and take it, take care of it. Nothing happens.
He tells the “manager” that another Code inspector, named “Vinny,” will have to meet the “manager” because he, too, works the night shift.
The “manager” hands a $400 cash pay-off to Gonzalez.
Mon., Nov. 7, 2011
The “manager” meets with Alberto and Vasallo at a Beach restaurant.
Alberto tells the “manager” that he has been worried about him over the past weekend because all the “big bosses” were out on the streets. But after having spoken with Gonzalez, everything is good.
I have to meet with Bryant later today, the “manager” tells Alberto, with Vasallo listening.
ALBERTO: Henry [Bryant] is a good guy. Everybody here is to help, no one will f— you. We gonna do the best we can to help you out.
At meeting’s end, the “manager” gives Alberto a $500 pay-off and leaves the restaurant while the two Code inspectors remain behind at the table.
That same day, the “manager” goes to a Miami Beach fire station to meet with Bryant. The sign permit, Bryant tells him, will be pushed through tomorrow “when the girl pulls it for Bryant,” reads the affidavit.
The “manager” pays Bryant $300 to reimburse him for the permit fee. He also pays him $1,000 for “his troubles” in pushing the permit through.
I’ve spoken to Grant, Bryant says. Grant said that Alberto had told him that Bryant had “met the new player in town.” Initially, Bryant pretended not to know what Grant was talking about. Grant and Vasallo, according to Bryant, were worried about working with the “manager” until Bryant told Grant that dealing with the “manager” would be okay. Bryant told Grant that the “manager” was “family” and to “treat him appropriately.”
BRYANT: And if they had any problems, come to me and let me know. I’ll deal with it. But, I said, I don’t like confusion. Now see, when I say that, they know where I am standing. ‘Cause I don’t go back and say something to you that I don’t say to them, and I don’t say something to them that I don’t say to you. Because my thing of it is, from where I stand, we can all get along.
Fri., Nov. 18, 2011
ALBERTO INTRODUCES SANTIESTEBAN
Alberto meets with the “manager” at Dolce, bringing along Vicente Santiesteban, another Code officer.
I attended a meeting at the condo across the street from the club, Alberto says. It’s only a matter of time before residents start complaining about Dolce, he tells the “manager.”
Santiesteban, he says, works the night shift and will also be protecting the club.
As the “manager” is counting out the $500 to pay Alberto, Alberto tells his Code subordinate –
ALBERTO: Keep an eye out for him. Today he has a party. If any complaints come in, you take the call, you know what I mean?
Alberto tells Santiesteban that he will be paid later that day. The “manager” and Santiesteban exchange numbers and arrange to meet later.
Inside a vehicle driven by Santiesteban, Gonzalez and Santiesteban meet later that day with the “manager.” Gonzalez explains that he and his Code colleague desired to meet in the car rather than in the club because they do not know the “manager” well and because “something” told Gonzalez to be careful.
Deeper into the conversation, Gonzalez says everything is all right, as long as the “manager” “promised he was no FBI.”
During the trio’s ride, the “manager” gives each inspector a $400 pay-off and tells them that the club will be open that weekend.
“MANAGER”: Look out for me for the weekend.
GONZALEZ: That’s done. Not a problem.
Sat., Dec. 3, 2011
Gonzalez drives the “manager” to a bank to get money for a cash pay-off to him.
During the ride, Gonzalez says that, typically, Code Compliance officers are not paid directly. Normally, the “boss” (Alberto) “handles the deal” and the money is then distributed by Alberto to the others.
I want to make sure that everybody is getting paid to avoid any accusations from lower-level members of the “team” that they are not getting their fair share, the “manager” explains to Gonzalez.
I’m here to collect the money for myself, Santiesteban, and Alberto, says Gonzalez. “Everyone knows what is going on right now.”
Unable to withdraw the money at the bank, the two arrange to meet later.
Sun., Dec. 4, 2011
In a meeting at the club’s office, the “manager” pays Gonzalez $800 in cash, explaining that half is for Gonzalez and the other half for Santiesteban.
Sat., Dec. 10, 2011
Alberto and the “manager” meet at the club.
I’m keeping the club open even though city officials want it closed, says Alberto. I delayed a fine that was going to be issued to Dolce, he adds.
Business has been slow, says the “manager,” but we will have a “big” New Year’s Eve party.
ALBERTO: I will look out for you New Year’s.
Alberto picks up another $500 cash pay-off before leaving.
Thurs., Dec. 15, 2011
Bryant, in a meeting with the “manager” at the club, says he got a call that concerns him.
BRYANT: When you got the supervisors, you don’t need the little Tom, Dicks, and Harrys. Because the little Tom, Dicks, and Harrys create problems. When you got the top man, you don’t need the little people.
You must have spoken with Alberto in regard to the “little people,” the “manager” responds.
BRYANT: Jose [Alberto] didn’t talk to me. One of his underlings talked to me.
It must have been Grant who spoke to you, the “manager” replies.
Yes, Bryant agrees, it was Grant.
But I have to deal with the “underlings,” the “manager” tells him, so I can confirm that everybody’s getting paid and that I don’t get burned by an unhappy lower-level player who might not be getting paid.
BRYANT: I been in this business for 25 years and I seen people come and I seen people go because they self-destruct.
After describing other corruption investigations involving other defendants, Bryant strikes a tone of defiance: “I don’t plan on being one.”
BRYANT: And the thing about it is, sometimes the more ears that you have, the more problems it will cause…and that is why we are cutting down some of the middlemen, you know. We want those that can actually do what they need to do, and even if they got one of their underlings, only thing they can do is override. And that is why I tell you certain things don’t need to go past a certain point.
The “manager” shows Bryant a notice from the fire department that the club is due for its annual fire inspection.
Can you contact the fireman who signed this notice? asks the “manager.”
“I’ll call him tomorrow,” replies Bryant.
Bryant tells the “manager” that he needs to buy 20 bikes – as Christmas gifts for kids – at $100 each. It’s for charity, he says.
The “manager” pulls out $2,000 in cash from his pocket and, “with a sarcastic tone,” according to the affidavit, begins counting out the money for Bryant.
“Here is my donation to charity,” he tells Bryant.
“Always appreciated,” replies the fireman.
“MANAGER”: Make sure this is all-inclusive, this takes care of my fire problems and everything else.
BRYANT: This takes care of a whole bunch of your problems.
What about the annual fire inspection? asks the “manager.”
Bryant replies, “That is not a problem.”
Sat., Dec. 31, 2011
Alberto and Gonzalez meet with the “manager” at a Beach restaurant. The club will be open that night, he tells the two Code inspectors. Following their meal, the trio go outside to Alberto’s car and get in. The “manager” gives Alberto another $500 pay-off and tells him to “keep us healthy tonight.”
ALBERTO: Yeah. You want me to take care of Vince [Santiesteban]?
Tell Santiesteban and Vasallo to come see me, replies the “manager.” Upon exiting the car, he hands a $400 pay-off to Gonzalez.
Later the same day, the “manager” and Vasallo meet at the club.
I need you to look out for me tonight, the “manager” tells him, because Alberto said that both Vasallo and Gonzalez would.
VASALLO: Yeah, yeah. For sure.
Vasallo is given a $400 pay-off.
VASALLO: If anything comes up, or something happens, you got my number. Text me quick or call me.
The “manager” then meets Grant at the club that afternoon.
We’re open tonight, we’ll be busy, so I don’t need any problems from Code or Fire, the “manager” tells him. The fire department recently closed a nearby club for exceeding its posted occupancy, he reminds Grant.
GRANT: Those are simple remedies.
“MANAGER”: Thanks for looking out for me.
GRANT: I’m always gonna look out for you, bro.
Grant gets his $400 pay-off.
GRANT: I’ll call my boy from Fire right now to make sure you don’t have any overcrowding problems.
Phone records later retrieved by the FBI show that Grant, twenty minutes after his meeting at Dolce that afternoon, sent the first of 3 text messages to Henry Bryant.
The “manager,” read the first one, “needs to be contacted if they [Fire] are doing a occupancy check.”
The second message, sent 2 minutes later, identifies the club by name.
The third, sent 30 minutes later: “ur boy [the “manager's” name] said he needs a little help tonight for Dolce.”
Wed., Apr. 11, 2012
The FBI rounds up the Miami Beach Seven. With their mayor and city manager present, the U.S. Attorney in Miami announces the arrests of the city employees at a noon-time press conference.
CITY HALL REACTS
Mayor Matti Bower
I’m sure that you were as appalled as I was by the disappointing revelations of the past few days. It is a betrayal of both the public trust and the personal trust we held in people on whom we have relied.
It is in these difficult moments that we who love this city must come together to ensure a Miami Beach government that is ethical, professional and above reproach. We will not tolerate corruption in any form.
All sources of corruption must be identified, and we must fix the fundamental issues that allowed the bad seeds to sprout.
I want you to know what we are doing to begin this process. First, we are cooperating fully with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in their investigation of the code enforcement and fire department employees accused of participating in a bribery scheme.
Other actions underway include:
1. We are moving to terminate the employment and benefits of the accused employees, who are on leave without pay. Should they be convicted, they will also lose their pensions.
2. We are investigating all code and fire cases handled by the accused beyond those identified in the indictments. We will pursue any and all leads regarding these employees and any others that may be identified in the course of investigation. In particular, I have asked the administration to review noise complaints found to be “invalid” by our Code officers, which has long been a source of angst among residents. An outside agency will also be retained to conduct an analysis of internal controls, with recommendations for improvements.
3. A comprehensive review of the Code Enforcement Department, including personnel and processes, is occurring. We will be hiring new employees part-time to fill open positions. Existing code personnel will be reassigned to different areas of the city. A senior level Miami Beach Police Department official will be immediately reassigned to the department to provide an additional layer of accountability. Reviews are also occurring in the Fire Department, particularly in regard to the assignment of inspections.
4. The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has agreed to assist us in tailoring supplemental ethics training with an emphasis on regulatory issues, in addition to our regular training for all employees.
5. We are contracting with an independent entity to establish a live hotline staffed 24 hours a day to handle anonymous tips. In the meantime, please direct any tips to the FBI hotline at (305) 944-9101.
In closing, Miami Beach prides itself on its reputation for ethical and efficient government. We have always been the first to raise the red flag when something doesn’t look right and we will continue to do so.
Commissioner Michael Gongora
It was with profound shock and disappointment that I learned about the alleged shakedown of a club owner. This behavior will not be tolerated. I am committed to implementing any and all necessary changes to ensure these incidents do not occur in the future.
Robert Santos-Alborná, Director, Miami Beach Code Compliance Division
There are open, current, ongoing investigations on this matter, at multiple levels. Thus, I’m precluded from making any statements or discussing any issues…regarding and/or related to [it].
Commissioners Exposito, Libbin, Tobin, Weithorn, and Wolfson, and Fire Chief Javier Otero were also asked for their reactions; as of press time, none had responded.