MIAMI-DADE

Carlisle hired ex-county commissioner for lucrative consulting contract

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Carlisle Development Group, a dominant affordable-housing builder under federal investigation, saw a unique opportunity to raise its profile in 2006 — just months after the sudden resignation of longtime Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler.

The Miami-based developer quickly hired Carey-Shuler as a consultant, and paid her newly formed company, Eclectic Business Solutions, a total of $170,000 between 2006 and 2007, according to recently released public records summarizing her check deposits. She left office in late 2005.

Carey-Shuler, who remains a paid consultant for Carlisle, told the Miami Herald that she has “no recollection” of receiving any money from Carlisle back then, let alone what she might have done for the developer. “It’s been so long ago. I don’t remember at this point,” the 73-year-old former commissioner said.

Today, more than seven years after Carlisle hired Carey-Shuler, she has not formally registered as a county lobbyist to represent the developer — even though her successor on the Miami-Dade Commission, Audrey Edmonson, told the Herald that Carey-Shuler had spoken to her in recent years about some of Carlisle’s projects after they were selected in a competitive bidding process.

County law allows former commissioners to work as a lobbyist two years after leaving office, as long as they’re registered with Miami-Dade government. A violation can result in a public reprimand or a $500 fine for a first offense.

Carey-Shuler’s attorney, Reginald Clyne, acknowledged that his client had indeed been a consultant for Carlisle for years. Clyne said she helped the developer on many of its South Florida affordable-housing projects, but he did not specify which ones.

The Herald uncovered the business relationship between Carlisle and Carey-Shuler in reporting on the separate federal criminal investigation of Carlisle.

First disclosed by the Miami Herald in May, Carlisle has been under federal investigation amid allegations that the affordable-housing developer — now the biggest in Florida — may have defrauded a U.S. tax-credit program that subsidizes low-income rental projects nationwide.

Carlisle’s payments to Carey-Shuler are not the subject of any current criminal investigation by federal or state authorities.

Carlisle says Carey-Shuler’s consulting work has met the county’s ethics law and helped its community “outreach efforts” to build much-needed low-income apartments. Carlisle’s lawyer called Carey-Shuler a company “ambassador” to the community.

Under the law, Miami-Dade commissioners are barred from lobbying county government and officials for two years after leaving office. During that period, ex-commissioners can consult with companies doing business at county hall, but they cannot engage in any kind of lobbying. However, they can provide consulting services, including advising clients on community relations, promoting their interests and meeting with residents.

Before Carlisle hired her, Carey-Shuler had voted along with the other commissioners on a handful of multimillion-dollar government subsidies for affordable-housing projects by Carlisle and other developers, mostly in her district, which includes parts of Miami and the county. She vacated her District 3 commission seat at mid-term, following nearly three decades on the county board, in December 2005. Three months later, she founded her company, Eclectic Business Solutions, and collected her first Carlisle paycheck in early April 2006.

Carey-Shuler’s hand-picked successor for her commission seat, Edmonson, the former mayor of El Portal, became Carlisle’s biggest advocate and political beneficiary at county hall.

Edmonson said she only became aware in 2009-10 that her mentor was working for Carlisle as a consultant. She said Carey-Shuler brought up a few of Carlisle’s projects with her during that period, including the Seventh Avenue Transit Village on Northwest 62nd Street.

She said Carey-Shuler approached her about the 161-unit development after it was selected by the county staff in a competitive bidding process. The $45 million project — which Carlisle is trying to sell because it cannot obtain private financing while under investigation — received nearly $17 million in county funds and $3 million from the Federal Transit Authority. In 2011, the Miami-Dade Commission gave final approval to Carlisle’s Liberty City project, including much of the public financing and a county land lease.

Asked if the former commissioner ever unduly influenced her on Carlisle’s behalf, Edmonson told the Herald: “One of things I am proud of is that no one has the ability to influence me. ... I think I have a reputation that I cannot be influenced.”

Over the past decade, Carlisle has grown into the state’s largest affordable-housing developer, with 25 apartment complexes and about 3,000 units under its management in Miami-Dade, including many in Carey-Shuler’s former district.

The developer’s payments to Carey-Shuler — summarized in public records obtained by the Herald from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office — came to the attention of prosecutors around 2009 when they were investigating one of her political protégés, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, and suspected corruption in Miami-Dade’s nonprofit and affordable-housing sectors, unrelated to Carlisle.

Ultimately, Spence-Jones regained her seat in August 2011 after she was acquitted at trial in a felony bribery case involving a developer.

A second case alleging Spence-Jones steered county grant money to a family business was dropped by prosecutors after a key witness, Carey-Shuler, changed her testimony.

With other state investigations taking center stage, the collateral probe of Carey-Shuler and her consulting company ultimately fizzled, never going beyond the prosecution’s issuing of subpoenas to obtain her bank records.

Clyne, Carey-Shuler’s attorney, called a Herald reporter late last month — just days after the reporter had spoken with his client — to say that she had been working for years as a consultant for Carlisle.

“She was helping them on multiple fronts. She would be an adviser on how to deal with the community,” Clyne said. “She would be an adviser on the county commission and policies and procedures. She would be an adviser even on the state issues. She knew a lot about affordable housing.”

Clyne took umbrage with the Herald’s coverage of African-American consultants, saying whites and Hispanics earn much more but are never singled out in the newspaper.

“Compared to what other consultants are paid, it was not very much,” he said of the money paid to Carey-Shuler.

He added: “It borders on slander.”

In a statement, Carlisle’s attorney, Jeff Marcus, a former federal prosecutor, said the developer hired Carey-Shuler in April 2006 to provide consulting services involving “marketing, business development and expert advice.”

“Dr. Carey-Shuler has been an integral part of our effort to meet the community’s need for affordable housing and successfully partner with local governments and communities,” Marcus said.

Legally, he said, “the terms of her retention specifically required that all services be provided in compliance with ... Miami-Dade County’s Conflict of Interests and Code of Ethics Ordinance. Current Carlisle management has reviewed the engagement of Eclectic seven years ago and is confident that the consultancy terms were appropriate and proper.”

Asked why Carlisle never had Carey-Shuler register as a county lobbyist, Marcus said she only played the role of a consultant.

According to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s records, Carlisle issued the $170,000 to Carey-Shuler in a series of 21 checks for $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000 between April 2006 and December 2007. She deposited those checks in her account at Bank of America, according to a spreadsheet summary in the public records.

Carlisle’s payments to Carey-Shuler “at a minimum raise serious questions about her compliance with the Miami-Dade ethics ordinance,” said University of Miami law professor Anthony Alfieri, who runs the school’s Center for Ethics and Public Service.

“Moreover, the importance of the real estate industry to South Florida, especially in the redevelopment of low-income communities, underscores the need for an open, transparent, and accountable process to monitor the spending of millions of public and private dollars on affordable-housing projects and to ensure the ethical compliance of lobbyists,” Alfieri said.

Carlisle was not the only Miami-Dade business awarded multimillion-dollar deals at County Hall, and then hired Carey-Shuler as a consultant after she left office.

Among the others: EBS Engineering, Inc., in Hialeah, which paid the former commissioner a total of $84,000 for “consulting work” in Broward and Palm Beach counties between May 2006 and December 2007, according to the spreadsheet summary of her check deposits by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

Another local engineering company: EAC Consulting, Inc., which paid Carey-Shuler a total of $65,000 between June 2006 and May 2007, the state attorney’s spreadsheet shows.

Also, a political consulting business, operated by well-known lobbyist Rosario Kennedy, paid Carey-Shuler $75,000 in 2007, stemming from the former commissioner’s work on a proposed luxury condominium project by The Related Group near Mercy Hospital in Miami. The project, never built, was the subject of a criminal investigation by the state attorney’s office. No charges were filed.

The two engineering companies did not return calls for comment. Both have done extensive design and other technical work for the county on roads, bridges and airports, but they are not under criminal investigation like Carlisle.

Over the past year, a federal grand jury in Miami has been investigating allegations that Carlisle’s chief executive officer, Matthew S. Greer, former CEO, Lloyd J. Boggio, and other companies bilked the U.S. government’s tax-credit program designed to promote affordable-housing development.

Carlisle is suspected of padding construction costs of rental apartments to generate higher government-issued tax credits — then splitting the resulting unlawful profits with a Fort Lauderdale contractor, BJ&K, and possibly others, according to sources familiar with the investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and FBI.

Carlisle’s former CEO, Boggio, authorized the hiring of Carey-Shuler as a consultant in early 2006. Boggio’s defense attorney, Scott Srebnick, declined to comment, deferring to Carlisle’s company statement.

Regarding the federal investigation, Carlisle has said it is “cooperating fully and is confident that it will be vindicated.”

Carey-Shuler was first appointed to the Miami-Dade Commission in 1979 in the aftermath of the so-called McDuffie riots — sparked by the police beating and slaying of an African-American motorcyclist.

Over her career, she emerged as an influential champion of the county’s black community, leading efforts to pass local laws to set aside government contracts for minority business owners.

In 2002, Carey-Shuler — whose district included the Miami communities of Liberty City, Little Haiti, Overtown, the Upper Eastside, Allapattah and Wynwood, along with the village of Miami Shores — was named the first African-American woman to serve as the commission’s chairperson.

By the end of 2005, she announced the end of her political career, citing concerns about the health of family members. Her husband, James Lamar Shuler, owner of a Delray Beach funeral home, died in October 2006.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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