A former senior Miami city official has been temporarily removed as the head of a church-affiliated nonprofit developer in Overtown following a Miami Herald report that he is under criminal investigation.
Ola Aluko, a one-time capital improvements director for the city, was suspended with pay Saturday during a special meeting of the board of directors for the St. John Community Development Corp., according to James Adams, a board member and senior pastor of St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church.
Adams said the board voted that Aluko should step down as president and chief executive pending the outcome of the Miami-Dade state attorney’s investigation and an internal inquiry into the matter.
Our desire is to preserve the legacy of the St. John CDC and the St. John brand
Bishop James Adams, St. John CDC board member
“Our desire is to preserve the legacy of the St. John CDC and the St. John brand,” Adams said.
Aluko did not respond to a request for comment Saturday evening.
Board member Eric Haynes will act as an interim director, Adams said.
As the Herald reported last month, investigators are looking into St. John CDC’s 2013 purchase of a piece of vacant land at 1643 NW First Ct. from a company created by Aluko in late 2012. His company bought the parcel for $39,000 and sold it to St. John just months later for $150,000 after corporate records show Aluko removed himself as the company’s manager.
Board Chairman Nelson Adams III, no relation to the pastor, told the Herald last month that Aluko gave the profits from the land sale back to St. John after board members learned of his role in the initial purchase of the parcel. Attorneys for St. John, which is seeking millions to fund an affordable townhouse project on the site, stress that the community development corporation as an entity has not been accused of breaking any laws and has been assured by the state that it is not a target of the investigation.
“St. John CDC did not commit any wrongdoing in acquiring this land and did not make a penny off the transaction,” Margot Moss and David Oscar Markus, attorneys for St. John, said in a statement. “When questions were raised about how the land purchase occurred over a year ago, St. John CDC cooperated fully with the State Attorney's Office and explained that St. John CDC did nothing wrong.”
The suspension levied Saturday by the board, according to James Adams, extends to Aluko’s private construction consulting company. Odua Group has contracted with St. John CDC for around $1 million in administrative and construction services since 2011. The company also has played a major role in St. John’s contract overseeing the tax-funded $15 million renovation of Town Park Plaza North, which has run behind schedule and over budget.
Adams, the pastor, said few on the board were aware of the problem until reading about it in the Herald. He said he also learned Saturday that Miami-Dade County, which has contributed public money to St. John projects, is auditing the affordable developer.
He hopes St. John, which is also building a residential tower with bond money provided by the city’s Overtown community redevelopment agency, can get back to work without distractions.
“Moving forward, we want to not only continue our legacy but to go even higher than we’ve ever been,” Adams said. “Perhaps this was a godsend for us to make sure that we know what’s going on and that we handle our housekeeping matters at home as opposed to having them tried in the court of public opinion.”