Homestead’s former mayor Steve Bateman made headlines when he was arrested in late August and charged with using his public office to get a paid secret consulting job.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office says that Bateman pushed a nonprofit to hire him as a consultant at $125 an hour to move the company’s Homestead construction project through Miami-Dade County all the while Community Health of South Florida Inc. had business in front of the City Council.
But Bateman, who was suspended from his mayoral post by Gov. Rick Scott, is not the only candidate in the upcoming Homestead election who has a colorful record.
From an arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon to mortgage-default lawsuits to a lawsuit alleging fraud in a local Baptist church’s pastoral election, most of the 13 candidates vying for the four open seats have had their share of run-ins with the law.
The Miami Herald conducted a background check on all candidates whose names will appear in the Oct. 1 primaries ballot.
Bateman owes about $1,100 in 2012 taxes for a property he owns on Southwest 187th Avenue in Homestead, according to Miami-Dade County records.
Reached by phone Tuesday morning, Bateman told a Miami Herald reporter that he had someone else on the other line. He did not respond to a followup call.
At a recent mayoral candidates’ debate he said job creation is at the forefront of his platform. He proposed an on-and-off ramp from the Florida Turnpike at Southwest 328th Street.
“Over 10 million people cross that intersection a year,” he said, adding that much of this traffic is going to the Florida Keys or the two national parks surrounding Homestead. “If we can get 10 percent of them to stop, we would have done a hero job.”
Then, during his closing remarks at the debate, Bateman waved a handout and said that one of his opponents, Jeff Porter, also has conflict of interest allegations on his record.
When Porter was serving on the dais in 2002, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust investigated him for allegations that a company he owns with his wife, World Wide Supply Solutions, did business with Homestead. Records provided by the ethics commission show that the company received checks from the city, including one for $3,103 in March 2002. The issue was settled with Porter pleading no contest and agreeing to a settlement and a $250 fine.
Porter said the staff sent a request for quotes for a job the city needed done. Porter and his wife responded, and it turned out World Wide Supply Solutions was the low bidder.
“There was never a vote in regards to any action with the company at all,” said Porter. “The purchases were well below the dollar amount to be in front of the council. … Once I realized what had been done, I went to the city attorney and said, ‘Look this company sold something to the city. He said, ‘Don’t do it anymore.’ We had already stopped everything prior to this complaint but I couldn’t undo the fact that the sale had been made. I said let me pay the fine and let’s go on with life.”
At the helm of Porter’s platform is adding police officers to the city’s payroll.
“There’s a national standard per capita to police officers and right now we are probably about 25 below the national standard,” he said during the mayoral debate.
Candidate Joseph Sewell, was sued in 2008 by members of a Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Goulds. The suit claimed he was voted in as the church’s pastor in a fraudulent election that was not properly announced and counted the votes of ineligible voters. The court sided with the members and ordered the removal of Sewell as the pastor.
“The pastor passed away, and they had an election, and I won the election. There was a group of people who wasn’t satisfied with the outcome and so they went to court and they got it overturned,” he said. “It wasn’t for any wrongdoing.”
Also, in 2012, a court ordered Sewell to pay Malibu Bay Community Association, where he previously lived, more than $8,000 for principal, interest and attorney’s fees.
“I went through a foreclosure. I filed chapter 13, and I am debt-free now,” he said.
Part of his platform is to fix and re-open the old City Hall, to bring more entertainment to the city such as a skating rink, and to work toward lowering the electricity bills for residents who receive power from Homestead’s plant.
“No. 1 to bring the spirit of God back to this community, No. 2 to bring back smart governing and integrity, No.3 to improve Homestead infrastructure, which is sorely broken down, and not to enrich myself but to enrich the day-to-day living of Homesteaders,” Sewell told the Miami Herald during a recent interview.
Mark Bell, who is Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell’s husband, also is running for the mayor’s post.
Bell said part of his platform is tackling wasteful spending, such as the recent hiring of council assistants; the city’s sewage pump station, which is at maximum capacity posing hurdles to new construction projects in the city; and the high electricity bills businesses and residents who use Homestead’s power plant pay.
Five candidates are competing to represent Homestead’s Southwest district, the city’s poorest and least developed.
Among the hopefuls is political newcomer Fred Byrd. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that when Byrd was 19, Homestead police arrested him for fleeing/eluding officers.
“That was not me,” he told a Miami Herald reporter. However, the records matched Byrd’s full name and date of birth.
When he was 23, in 1995, the city’s police arrested him for resisting an officer without violence. He was convicted.
Then, in October 1995, Miami-Dade police arrested him for battery on a mall employee. Byrd was at a store in Cutler Ridge Mall where he grabbed the store’s manager in a chokehold and said, “You are going to get hurt,” according to a police report. He was sentenced to probation and community service.
In 1996 he was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon, but the charge was dropped.
In 2004 he was charged with misdemeanor assault, but the charge was dropped.
In 2005 he was charged with having a fraudulent vehicle insurance card, but the charge was dropped.
In addition, in 1999 Miami-Dade police arrested Byrd for obstruction of justice.
A Tactical Narcotics Team was conducting an operation when Byrd drove up and down the street, pointed toward an undercover police officer and screamed, “Here comes the police,” a police report states. Prosecutors dropped the charge.
Byrd told the Herald that he was busy campaigning and insisted a reporter call him back so he could address these cases. He did not return a follow-up call.
During an earlier interview, he said that through his work with the Southwest Advisory Committee he has worked in the background to help Homestead’s poorest and least developed district.
“Over the years, we’ve become infested with drugs, we’ve become infested with violence,” he said. “I’ve decided just to stand up and make something happen.”
Incumbent Jimmie Williams III said that he is running to see through projects that have started under his tenure, including road improvements and a grant program that provides funds to low-income residents to fix up their homes.
A third candidate for the seat is former Homestead councilman Norman Hodge Jr.
In 2012, a judge sided with the plaintiffs who brought an action to have Hodge removed from a property on the 2200 block of Portofino Avenue. The court also ordered him to pay $425 to the plaintiff.
“We broke the lease because we wanted to live in the Southwest area,” he said.
Earlier this year, Hodge was sued and a court sided with the plaintiff on the possession of the property on the 1400 block of Southwest First Avenue.
This is the same address that Hodge has been using for his campaign paperwork.
The Hodges also had to pay $245 to the plaintiff.
“I was in Alabama for my mother-in-law’s funeral. We were renting the place [in Homestead] and we mailed a money order. It was an older guy who owned the property. I guess he didn’t remember, so we had to show him receipts every month, so my wife kind of got upset about it having to have that argument every month.
“He filed for an eviction, and we basically sent the receipts to the court and we told [them] we were going to move out.”
Hodge said he wants to once again sit on the dais so that he can continue pushing for the redevelopment of the Southwest district.
The third candidate running to represent the Southwest district is Ezzard Horn, who in 2005 was sued by Citifinancial Equity Services seeking mortgage foreclosure. The bank won.
“That was my mom’s house that went into foreclosure. My brother was living in the house, and he didn’t pay the bills and my name was on the title. That’s why I was named,” Horn told the Herald. “We lost the house. It should have never come to that.”
Horn worked for Homestead’s parks department for 20 years, the last eight as the superintendent.
“By me being a long-time city employee, I know a lot of the inner workings in the city. I’ve seen some things that have not come out the way they should have. It’s a lot of little things that add up and make people upset,” said Horn, adding that if elected he will work to better the relationship between the police department and the community.
Rochenel Marc, a business owner of a security-guard training school in Homestead, said his platform includes addressing the high electricity bills, job creation and more police.
“Most of the businesses in the southwest closed because of safety reasons,” he said.
Incumbent Elvis Maldonado is defending his seat against two challengers: Maycol Enriquez and Nazy Sierra.
In 2008, U.S. Bank National Association sued Maldonado and his wife and foreclosed on their home.
Maldonado told the Herald via a text message that his wife died at the time and he is in recovery.
“The last four years with the city of Homestead have been good in the sense that the city is progressing,” he said, adding that new businesses have opened and the landscaping has improved. “You see the good that you do in the community and I want to continue with that.”
Enriquez said he wants to serve because he is dissatisfied with what he has seen at council meetings.
“Every time I look at a council meeting, either everyone is arguing or everyone has their own agenda. I don’t bring an agenda. My agenda is what the people are telling me. We’ve got to give the people options,” he said, adding that if the city plans to spend money on a big taxpayer-funded project, he would rather put the issue to a referendum. “I would just give you the facts and let the people choose.”
Sierra said: “I am here to serve my community and not be served by my community. The three main issues for me are education, security and jobs.”