When the FBI wanted to coordinate federal grand jury subpoenas for 20 current and former Opa-locka government employees, an agent asked City Attorney Vincent Brown to help get the word out to the witnesses in the public corruption probe.
But instead of contacting each of them about scheduling grand jury appearances through the FBI, Brown emailed a confidential witness list to every government employee — more than 180.
“Govern yourselves accordingly,” Brown wrote in an email blast, attaching an FBI agent’s request for assistance.
While Brown has described the breach as a “human error,” two Opa-locka government employees — finance director Charmaine Parchment and grants administrator Delia Kennedy — have lodged misconduct complaints against the city attorney with the Florida Bar and Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust.
In the complaints filed last week, both employees assert that Brown’s disclosure of the confidential grand jury list was “intentional” and placed them and other witnesses in “danger” — at “risk” of “retaliation and intimidation” by targets of the FBI investigation focusing on suspected contract kickbacks and extortion schemes.
Moreover, they say Brown has “conflicts of interest” as the city attorney, claiming he is advising grand jury witnesses who began testifying this month as well as several senior Opa-locka officials who are expected to be defendants in the looming indictment.
The two employees also claim Brown advised them and other grand jury witnesses that they have “immunity,” which they have learned is “erroneous.”
To bolster their complaint, Parchment and Kennedy attached a Miami Herald story dated April 7 that spotlighted the beginning of the federal grand jury investigation in Miami, Brown’s disclosure of the witness list and the names of key witnesses, including those of the finance director and grants administrator.
Brown, who has served as Opa-locka’s city attorney for more than a year and collects a monthly retainer fee of $24,500, said he has done nothing wrong. “There was no violation” of federal grand jury procedures, Brown told the Miami Herald on Friday, declining to comment further about the employees’ specific allegations in their complaints.
Brown said that when the FBI raided Opa-locka City Hall last month, agents gathered more than 60 employees in a room and read off the names of those subpoenaed as grand jury witnesses.
“You and everybody else know that information was already made public by the FBI on the day of the raid,” Brown said, adding that his disclosure breach was a “harmless error” as a result.
Brown asserted that sending the email blast of the grand jury witness list to all Opa-locka government employees was “was not done with any malicious intent.”
Legal experts said, however, that whatever Brown’s intentions may have been by disclosing the confidential list, he breached the secret protocol of the panel’s procedures.
“He’s screwing the pooch,” said Miami attorney Joseph DeMaria, a former federal prosecutor. “He’s disclosing who’s being subpoenaed by the grand jury by telling the world rather than keeping this quiet.”
Brown, who in 2008 received a public reprimand from the Florida Supreme Court for “professional misconduct,” said that the two Opa-locka employees have “every right” to lodge a complaint against him.
But in the end, he said, the “truth will prevail” in his favor.