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North Bay Village officials settle ethics complaint

 

Special to the Miami Herald

North Bay Village Vice Mayor Eddie Lim and Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez have settled a complaint filed against them with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust

The complaint alleged that they broke county and village law by failing to disclose gifts.

Lim and Gonzalez attended a Miami Heat game against the Atlanta Hawks in December 2012. The basketball game tickets were gifts from a friend of Gonzalez’s.

According to county law, commissioners have to file disclosure forms for gifts that amount to more than $100. In addition, a North Bay Village ordinance says that commissioners have to disclose gifts worth more than $25.

Legal counsel for the Miami Heat said that tickets like the ones Lim and Gonzalez received cost between $110 and $140 each, according to the ethics commission’s report.

The two officials said their failure to file gift-disclosure forms was simply an oversight.

“I didn’t realize I had to file it. If I knew, I would have,” Gonzalez told the Miami Herald, adding that once he became aware of the law he submitted the paperwork but missed the March 31deadline.

Pedro Cheng, a friend of Gonzalez’s for about 14 years, invited Lim and Gonzalez to the basketball game. Cheng is the vice president of Asia Connect Media Corp., a Doral-headquartered advertising, marketing, publishing and networking firm.

Asia Connect had a hand in presenting real-estate opportunities in North Bay Village to Turkish investors, according to the ethics commission’s report.

Gonzalez said Cheng told him that the investors were looking at development opportunities in Miami and Sunny Isles Beach and informed the commissioner of the opportunity to showcase North Bay Village as well.

“All I did was just refer him (Cheng) to the city manager, and the city manager, along with the staff, prepared a presentation, a written presentation,” for the investors, Gonzalez told the Miami Herald. The presentation took place under former Village Manager Dennis Kelly’s tenure. “My only connection is that the person who spoke to the city manager happens to be a friend of mine.”

The connection between Lim and Gonzalez with Cheng, Asia Connect and the Turkish investors' visit to the village, however, was not substantiated and is not part of the settlement agreement.

The settlement between the commissioners and the ethics commission does not mean that Lim and Gonzalez admit guilt for failing to disclose the gifts, but does mean that they agree that there was enough evidence for the agency to make its case, Rhonda Victor Sibilia, a spokeswoman for the commission, wrote in an email to the Herald.

As part of the agreement, Lim and Gonzalez are to file the gift-disclosure forms and pay $100 to cover investigative costs. In return, the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust will waive a $500 fine for violating the Miami-Dade County Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance.

In addition, the commissioners will also have to accept official letters of instruction, or a document the commission gives to create a public record showing that the officials were counseled on the ethics laws they violated, Joe Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, wrote in an email to the Miami Herald.

Said Lim: “In most municipalities there are always a few perpetually disgruntled residents bent on throwing mud at elected officials no matter what the facts are. They use their blogs as carte blanche to hurl innuendos and untruths about something as minor as an honest oversight.”

Sibilia, of the ethics commission, said Village Commissioner Richard Chervony passed along the information about Lim and Gonzalez attending the basketball game.

Chervony declined to comment.

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