North Miami Police Chief Marc Elias must reimburse the city about $3,000 for taking a trip to Haiti and expensing it to the city, officials said this week.
Elias went to Haiti seven times since April 2012, charging the city each time, for a total of $14,000. The city used funds from its Law Enforcement Trust Fund, money seized from criminals, to pay for the trips. Police agencies typically use these funds for training, equipment or crime prevention.
Elias did not return several telephone calls from The Herald, but city documents show he took the trips to provide security for a vacationing North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau, to attend a swearing-in ceremony for Haiti’s national police chief and to attend an 18th anniversary celebration for Haiti’s police force.
City Manager Stephen Johnson said this week only Elias’ most recent trip in August did not have the necessary documentation to warrant reimbursement by the city. As a result, Johnson invalidated his expenses.
“He elected to pay,” Johnson said.. “We sat down and discussed it and he agreed to do it.”
Johnson said he wasn’t sure of the exact amount that Elias would pay back, but said it was “about $3,000.” He said the previous trips were valid.
“As far as I know they had the proper documents and travel request forms,” he said.
Elias, who is Haitian-American, took a two-week trip in July that cost taxpayers $2,800, according to city records. The purpose was “meeting with National Haitian Police staff” for implementing community policing services in Haiti and to get an update on child exploitation, according to travel documents Elias submitted to the city.
But Haitian police officials and the U.S. State Department, which is leading efforts to strengthen the Haitian National Police, said North Miami is not among the law enforcement agencies involved in the effort.
“Only the New York City Police Department has partnered with the Department of State to train with the Haitian National Police on community policing,’’ wrote Christian Cali, public diplomacy officer at the State Department, in an email.
For the July trip, Elias charged the city $1,087 for an American Airlines business class ticket, plus $803 for a hotel stay and $666 for his meals. He did not submit an itinerary of his trip.
North Miami does not require city employees to provide receipts for their meals. Instead, the city relies on maximum rates for meals allowed by the U.S. government for federal employees. Even if city employees spend less than the amount outlined by the federal government, North Miami will reimburse them the full amount.
Johnson, Elias’ boss, had few details on the August trip. He said in September he did not know with whom the chief met or in what cities he was scheduled to teach. He added, however, he thought the classes Elias led were more “localized” and not part of the larger U.S. initiative.
The city-funded visits earned Elias “a usual room” at La Villa Creole, his hotel of choice, “on a quiet street in Pétion-Ville, in the cool hills above Port-au-Prince,” as described by the hotel’s website. A hotel staff member wrote to Elias that they were “pleased to reserve the usual room,” according to city documents.
In December 2012, Elias, who joined the North Miami force as assistant chief in October 2010, went to Haiti for the swearing in of Godson Orelus, the Haitian national police chief. After securing an economy-class seat for that trip, Elias later upgraded to business class. He was reimbursed with LETF funds.
In November 2012, Elias wrote he would be in Haiti for an 11-day “joint investigation in child exploitation.” But there was no North Miami child exploitation investigation, according to a city spokeswoman.
“It’s more like sharing information on crime trends,” Pam Solomon, the city’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Solomon said she was not aware of any child exploitation incidents in North Miami.
In the case of Elias’ jaunts to Haiti, Johnson said North Miami’s return is goodwill.
“As far as what does North Miami receive from that, we’re educating in a country that’s less fortunate,’’ he said. “What do we get? Sometimes it’s the feeling you get of just helping a department that is less fortunate.’’