Earlier this year, North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre changed his mind about a proposal to develop the controversial Biscayne Landing site a switch that proved instrumental in developer Michael Swerdlow and his associates winning the lucrative city contract.
But Pierre did not publicly disclose his own ties to the Biscayne Landing development firm.
Pierre, before taking office, had signed on as an advisor to an ambitious project that would revamp a little-known island off the coast of Haiti called Petite Cayemite into a luxurious tourist destination.
The main players in Cayemite Enterprises, the group that is pitching a serene island resort in Haiti, are also principals of Swerdlows Oleta Partners, the firm that is developing the city-owned Biscayne Landing site.
Brothers Emmanuel and Jean Cherubin, who own Cayemite Enterprises, are in charge of attracting minority-owned businesses to work on the Biscayne Landing project. Swerdlow, the lead developer of Biscayne Landing, is an investor and advisor to the Cayemite firm.
Pierre serves as an advisor and has not profited financially from the proposed project, and does not receive a salary or consulting fee from Cayemite Enterprises, said Jean Cherubin. But Pierre has expressed an interest in investing in the project, Cherubin said.
City rules prohibit North Miami officials from doing business with city vendors.
But because Pierre has not directly profited from the Cherubins unrealized venture, it is unclear whether that prohibition would apply.
Neither Pierre nor City Attorney Regine Monestime responded to requests for comment.
The relationship came to light last week when Pierre addressed Haitian government officials including the countrys tourism minister at North Miami Beachs public library. The officials were in town during Haiti President Michel Martellys high-profile visit to meet with South Floridas Haitian diaspora.
There, Pierre introduced Swerdlow and the Cherubin brothers, and touted their business acumen, according to one official in attendance. Martelly was not at the meeting.
The Petite Cayemite group pitched a lush green island with untapped potential. A video rendering of its proposal shows state-of-the-art buildings, a marine conservation center and bungalows perched on stilts above the water.
The Cherubins say they want to turn Petite Cayemite, a mostly uninhabited island off southwest Haitis coast, into a high-end eco-tourism destination with modern condominiums and attractions like horseback riding and scuba diving.
North Miami City Council member Scott Galvin said he was dismayed to learn that Pierre was involved in a business venture linked to the Biscayne Landing developer.
This Petite Cayemite situation is totally wrong, said Galvin, who voted against giving the contract to Swerdlow. Even if there are no rules on this, you should disclose these things.
The 190-acre Biscayne Landing property has been mired in unrealized development plans over the years. Swerdlow knows the property because he was once the Biscayne Landing developer before selling his interest in the project.
Swerdlow reemerged after the property went into foreclosure, seeking to gain control of the lease. During public debates, some residents questioned whether the bid process was tilted to favor Swerdlow. The city received two bids; one from Swerdlow and one from another firm that later dropped out.