Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado spent more than three hours Tuesday answering questions posed by U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission investigators who are examining the public financing of the Miami Marlins’ $634 million Little Havana ballpark.
The mayor said the investigators focused on whether administrators in Miami or Miami-Dade County government, or Miami Marlins brass, misled the politicians who ultimately voted to pay for construction of the complex.
The main proponents pushing the plan at County Hall were Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and county manager George Burgess. At City Hall it was Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and city manager Pete Hernandez. Regalado said the investigators mentioned all but Alvarez.
“They talked about the votes. They asked if I met with anyone from the city or the county out of the Sunshine,” said Regalado, who, then a city commissioner, cast the lone “no’’ vote on the ballpark’s financing plan in 2008. “They asked if anyone in the city or county ever saw the Marlins’ financial statements. They were trying to establish if anyone knew about their finances.”
Regalado’s statements echo those of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who told the Miami Herald that he also spoke with federal investigators who similarly asked if he was misled by county staff on the financial details of the ballpark plan.
Gimenez, who voted against the plan in 2008 as a commissioner, said he wasn’t misled, though management didn’t give him all the details he requested about the bond sales used to finance the stadium.
Diaz, Hernandez and Burgess could not be reached for comment.
The SEC launched its probe into the ballpark plan in December 2011, sending almost identical letters to the city and county requesting thousands of pages of emails and documents relating to the deal. Both governments say they have complied with the requests.
The SEC is believed to be examining whether bond buyers were misled about the financial health of the city or the county, which combined sold more than $500 million of bonds to build the ballpark and surrounding parking structures.
The Marlins, who kicked in $128 million, or about 20 percent of the construction costs, did not sell bonds to cover their end of the deal.
A major sticking point before commissioners finally voted was that the Marlins refused to make their finances public and open their books. Team owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson declined disclosure requests from City and County Hall, and successfully warded off a legal challenge filed by Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, a stadium critic.
At the time, the Marlins repeatedly said they couldn’t afford to invest more money into the ballpark. Afterward it was revealed by the website Deadspin.com that the Marlins were making a healthy profit.
The Marlins have refused to comment on whether they have been approached by the SEC.
Federal regulators have also interviewed County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Miami Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff, both of whom voted in favor of the financing plans.