The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust agreed Thursday to settle an ethics complaint against South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez De Castro that accused him of steering city business to his wife’s auto tag agency, Airways Auto Tag, and soliciting business for his wife’s insurance company using his city email.
Under the settlement agreement, which evolved over months of negotiations, De Castro pleaded no contest to three of the four charges against him. He agreed to pay $2,000 in investigative costs and receive a letter of instruction. The fourth charge, relating to the insurance company, was dropped as part of the settlement.
The chief violated a section of 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.
A local blogger known as The Straw Buyer first reported the police department was doing business with Airways in March 2012.
“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.
His memo states the city did business with Airways Auto Tag in February, June and October 2011. The 2011 transactions totaled $1,251.
Murawski said Thursday the only reason to proceed to hearing on the case would be to show that the business was conducted willfully by the chief.
“I don’t think we need to go that far,” Murawski said.
The draft final order written by Murawski states the commission “specifically made no finding as to whether the violation was or was not ‘willful.’”
That draft order has not yet been adopted by the commission, and each side will present draft final orders for the ethics commission to consider next month.
De Castro has maintained that he did not know about the transactions. His wife told investigators that she does not discuss her business with her husband or anyone, according to the memo.
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 states.
“COE staff claims to have evidence sufficient for a full conviction, they have evidence of an extensive conspiracy to cover up the Chief’s responsibility, and yet they drop one charge entirely and do back flips to minimize the other three charges,” South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard wrote in a statement to the Miami Herald.
“What the COE accomplished today could have been done 16 months ago with no investigation and without taking a single deposition. Who can explain to the citizens of Miami-Dade County how this action addresses ‘public trust’ part of the Commission on Ethics and the Public Trust? It’s just another example of what blogger Al Crespo calls the ‘Friends and Family Plan’.”