Miami

Mayor, state attorney: We didn’t conspire against Spence-Jones

 

crabin@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade’s top prosecutor, two assistants and Miami’s mayor asked a federal judge Thursday to dismiss Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to push her out of office.

Spence-Jones filed a lawsuit in federal court in December arguing that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and two senior prosecutors worked hand-in-hand to have her suspended from office, jailed and prosecuted.

The racketeering-conspiracy suit claims the state attorney, the mayor and senior prosecutors Richard Scruggs and Robert Fielder conspired to fabricate evidence and mislead witnesses Barbara Carey-Shuler and Armando Codina to support a pair of felony corruption cases against the two-term commissioner.

Spence-Jones spent 21 months out of office during her second term, suspended while she fought the charges. She beat one of the charges and the other was later dropped. She was acquitted at trial of soliciting a $25,000 bribe in 2006 from Codina, the Miami developer. Prosecutors had set out to show Spence-Jones used an impending commission vote to squeeze Codina into donating to a nonprofit she ran from her office.

The dropped case centered around $75,000 in grants from the Miami-Dade Action Plan trust, or MMAP, a group that awards money to community groups. Carey-Shuler, then county commission chairwoman, initially told prosecutors that a letter purporting to be from her and asking that $50,000 be directed to Spence-Jones’ family company was a fake. Carey-Shuler later said she likely had written the letter.

Thursday, attorneys representing the four defendants argued that Spence-Jones lacked evidence to prove a conspiracy, and that prosecutors misleading or threatening a witness, even if true, doesn’t amount to conspiring to remove a commissioner from office.

“They talk about a conspiracy with Mayor Regalado, but all they have is a meeting,” attorney Sandy Bohrer said of a meeting his client, Fernández Rundle, had with the mayor. “With regard to my client, all they state are conclusions. They have no facts.”

At one point, Spence-Jones’ attorney, Ilann Maazel, argued that Fernández Rundle informing Regalado and then-Gov. Charlie Crist of Spence-Jones’ impending arrest — even before Carey-Shuler provided the evidence needed to charge the commissioner in one of the cases — amounted to a conspiracy.

Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks didn’t appear sold.

“You seem to have more against the governor than you do against the mayor. Was he part of the scheme?” Middlebrooks asked.

Maazel said the alleged conspirators were “attempting to manufacture probable cause.” Middlebrooks repeatedly quizzed Maazel on the accusation against Regalado. He rebuffed Maazel when the attorney spoke of a secret meeting between Regalado and the state attorney, and how the mayor allegedly said he didn’t want Spence-Jones back on the commission, and called her “vicious.”

“He doesn’t like her. He might even be a political opponent, but I don’t see anything that ties him to the prosecution,” said the judge.

Middlebrooks said he will issue a ruling as soon as possible.

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