South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez De Castro will appear in front of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust on Thursday facing charges that he steered city business to his wife’s companies, Airways Auto Tag LLC and Beck and Lo’s Insurance Agency, Inc. The ethics-commission advocate will likely present a settlement agreement. It is unknown if De Castro and/or the commission will accept it.
De Castro is accused of violating the city’s ethics code, which bars city employees from doing business with immediate family members who have a financial interest with the city. Willful violation constitutes malfeasance and results in forfeiture of office. He is also charged with violating the county’s ethics code, which prohibits exploiting one’s official position.
“There is substantial evidence to show that De Castro was, in fact, well aware that his department did business with his wife’s company,” according to the probable-cause memorandum, written by the ethics commission’s advocate, Michael Murawski. He refused to comment on the case.
His memo states the city did business with Airways Auto Tag in February, June, and October 2011.
A fourth charge alleges that De Castro was soliciting business for his wife’s insurance company using his city email address.
The issues were first reported in March 2012 by a local blogger known as The Straw Buyer. Murawski later filed the complaint.
Murawski’s memo presents an interview with Lt. Dan Salerno (now retired from the police department) who asked De Castro in 2011 whether his wife could help obtain titles for vehicles forfeited to police after being used in felonies. Salerno said the chief answered “yes” and gave Salerno his wife’s phone number.
“Salerno was taken aback when he was advised that De Castro claimed to have no knowledge of Airways’ business transactions with the city,” the memo said.
Interoffice memos requesting checks payable to Airways do not have De Castro’s signature on them but were addressed to De Castro.
De Castro has denied knowledge of the city doing business with his wife and denied giving any order to do so, according to the memo. The memo states De Castro admitted he gave Salerno his wife’s phone number but that Salerno wanted to ask for help in filling out the forms — not give her city business.
However, the memo also states Salerno said his understanding was that De Castro gave him his wife’s number to have her tag agency handle the matter — not merely to offer help — and that Salerno worked with Ileana Martinez De Castro every time he went to Airways.
For her part, Ileana Martinez De Castro said that she does not discuss her business with her husband or anyone, according to the memo.
After evolving over months of negotiations, the settlement agreement likely to be offered to De Castro would have him plead no contest to the first three counts, while the fourth count would be dropped. He would also have to pay $2,000 in “investigative costs” and receive a letter of instruction. The agreement, as well as the draft order from the commission, specifically states that the commission makes no determination as to whether or not the violation was willful or knowing.
South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard, who wants to see the chief fired, said he thinks the chief would be getting off easy if the commission accepts the settlement and that the agreement does not serve the public interest.
“The police chief is the highest law enforcement officer in the city,” Stoddard said. “If he is accused of breaking the law and the investigations have it clear, why are they betraying the public trust?”
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported The Straw Buyer filed the ethics complaint. This version has been corrected to reflect the complaint was filed by ethics commission advocate Michael Murawski.