Former North Miami Beach mayor investigated over cost of bus bench ads
08/31/2012 12:00 AM
09/01/2012 2:01 PM
More than a year after losing his reelection bid, former North Miami Beach Mayor Myron Rosner finds himself under criminal investigation for allegedly underreporting the value of bus bench ads bought from a city vendor.
Rosner, 52, declined to comment on the possible campaign finance violations charges. His attorney, Ben Kuehne, said Rosner has been “fending off” complaints arising from his handling of campaign finances and signage, including bus benches.
“He favorably resolved the matter with the Miami-Dade Commission On Ethics and it’s my understanding that the complaints have been shopped to other agencies, possibly even law enforcement,” Kuehne said. “Mr. Rosner intends to fully address any complaints and put his past political life behind him.”
A spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said she could not comment on the ongoing investigation.
The case stems from complaints filed with the Florida Elections Commission last year by blogger, Stephanie Kienzle, who has filed other complaints against Rosner on separate issues with state and county ethics agencies.
In February 2011, Rosner reported a $500 in-kind contribution from Martin Outdoor Media Group, which has a contract with the city to sell ads on bus benches. He later amended the report to say he’d paid the company $4,500 in advertising expenses and provided The Miami Herald with the January contract showing he bought 30 ads for $150 each.
In an amended report, Rosner said he loaned himself $4,500 “to cover the amount” and that the vendor didn’t cash the original check until April.
“Something didn’t smell right about that. You can’t write a check from a campaign account if you don’t have the funds to back it,” said Kienzle, who has filed at least two other complaints against Rosner on separate issues with state and county ethics agencies. “Besides, that $4,500 wouldn’t have been enough to cover the true cost of those ads.”
According to its own listed prices, Martin Outdoor Media charges $135 for standard bus-bench ads and $300 for those in high-profile locations. In her complaint, Kienzle wrote that several of the ads were along busy corridors such as Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 163rd Street.
She also included a photograph of an ad on a bus shelter, which according to Martin Outdoor Media’s website should cost between $200 and $400.
Company representatives did not return a phone message on Thursday.
Investigators are also examining political strategist Al Lorenzo, who helped with Rosner’s campaign but does not appear in campaign reports. Lorenzo was recently under fire for his role as a consultant in two high-profile political campaigns that were tainted by a recent absentee voter fraud scandal in Hialeah.
In late July, Miami-Dade police followed an alleged ballot-broker, Deisy Cabrera, as she collected absentee ballots and entered the Hialeah campaign office of county Mayor Carlos Giménez, who was reelected on Aug. 14. Cabrera was later charged with forging a signature on a ballot.
At the time, critics of Miami-Dade state attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle questioned whether her office should handle the case because Lorenzo’s company, Quantum Results Inc., served as a consultant on both her and Gimenez’s reelection campaigns.
Eventually, the Gimenez campaign cut ties with Quantum after learning that its subcontractor, Gerardo Judas Ramos, has a felony record that includes federal fraud convictions. Fernández Rundle later recused herself after receiving an allegation that Ramos had been seen with Cabrera.
Lorenzo did no return several calls from El Nuevo Herald this week.
On Thursday, Rosner confirmed that Lorenzo served as a consultant last year but said he was not paid directly by his campaign last year. Instead, he explained that Lorenzo had a financial arrangement with The Campaign Super Store Inc., which designed, printed and sent several thousand campaign mailers.
The North Miami Beach business received just over $12,000 for the work according to campaign reports.
Owner Charles Safdie told El Nuevo Herald he paid Lorenzo a percentage of his profits but declined to say how much.
“It’s customary for campaign consultants to receive a commission or nominal fee in exchange for referring a client,” he said.
Safdie said he’s been interviewed twice by Miami-Dade police about Rosner’s campaign.
“I was part of the fishing expedition,” he said. “I didn’t see anything that Mayor Rosner did wrong.”
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