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Opa-locka’s ex-vice mayor headed to trial

 

ldixon@MiamiHerald.com

Former Opa-locka Vice Mayor Terence Pinder and City Hall insider Dante Starks are scheduled to face trial Feb. 3 for counts, including illegal lobbying and racketeering, stemming from their 2007 arrests.

The trial follows a years-long investigation into public corruption and illegal financial exchanges in Opa-locka.

On Monday, Pinder and Starks’s lawyers asked Judge Miguel de la O to dismiss all 14 charges against Pinder, and seven of the nine against Starks. The judge denied all of the motions for Starks, but agreed to dismiss three of the counts against Pinder, concluding that the state did not make a strong enough case for prosecution.

The dismissed counts included one of petit theft, and two of conflict of interest — one for an ethics violation the other for soliciting or demanding a gift.

The defense lawyers were unsuccessful in getting the other counts dismissed.

The state said that on Count 10, which alleges that Starks, who lobbied city officials for private clients, paid Pinder’s bond after his arrest. They said that Starks must have paid the bond because his name is listed on the receipts and he signed an indemnity agreement and promissory note.

But Pinder’s lawyer, Ben Kuehne, said that Pinder’s father gave sworn testimony indicating that he paid the bond. In the motion to dismiss, they also state that Starks handled the bond payment because of his familiarity with paying them in the past.

“There is no evidence that the bond money, the thing of value, came from Mr. Starks,” said Kuehne.

Judge de la O said in his ruling that the receipt, agreement and promissory note could still potentially constitute a benefit to Pinder.

Another count alleges that Starks paid for a room at the El Palacio Hotel that Pinder used on multiple occasions. The prosecutors said that bank statements indicate that he paid for multiple rooms, and a witness said Starks left a key for Pinder, but the defense said the state couldn’t prove if Pinder actually used it.

The judge said this was a close call, but a jury should decide whether the evidence is sufficient.

There was also discussion of whether Starks was required to register as a lobbyist in Opa-locka.

Prosecutors said that Starks made almost $1 million as a lobbyist for the APAC Group, Hard J. Construction and PAWA Architects and Engineers. PAWA is owned by Emmanuel Nwadike, who pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges in 2011 and, according to prosecutors, secretly gave more than $60,000 to Pinder and City Commissioner Timothy Holmes between 2004 and 2007. Holmes has not been charged.

Starks’s lawyer, Rod Vereen, argued that no witness gave testimony or a deposition indicating that Starks lobbied for the companies before the City Commission. Vereen added that Starks was told by the city clerk’s office, at the time, that he did not have to register as a lobbyist.

Judge de la O said in his ruling that the state provided enough potential evidence for a jury, if they believe the allegations, to make a conviction.

Kuehne said his client will be vindicated at trial.

“Mr. Pinder is confident that, because he has done absolutely nothing wrong, the state’s remaining counts will be dismissed during the trial for a total lack of evidence of wrongdoing,” the lawyer said in an email.

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