Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman’s wife bought a used Mercedes-Benz from a local developer with political ties, but the developer says he sold the car for what it appraised for at a local CarMax.
With only 42,000 miles on it, the 2004 model S430 was worth between $13,600 and $22,000, according to a guidebook that insurance agencies use to determine car values.
State records show the Batemans paid $13,000 for their Benz.
The seller of the gold-colored luxury car, according to state records, was the company Shores Development. Wayne Rosen, one of the developers behind the sprawling Keys Gate community in Homestead, is the president of the company, according to state records.
The developer, who donated at least $3,000 to the mayor’s last campaign through several of his companies, said the sale was conducted above-board. Rosen said he took the car to a local CarMax to have it appraised when the mayor’s wife said she was interested in buying the vehicle, which Rosen said sat in a garage unused.
A representative at CarMax near International Mall confirmed by telephone that the dealership valued the Mercedes at $13,000.
A CARFAX report showed the mileage at the time of sale. The report also noted that no deficiencies — such as a car accident or flood damage, which would make the car worth less — had been reported to the service. CARFAX is a for-profit company that tracks vehicle history information using a car’s identification number. Rosen said the car had a battery problem, and wouldn’t always start.
“There’s nothing inappropriate, and anybody that would have paid me the appraised value could have bought that car. That's why I went to CarMax to see what that value would be, and they paid that value,” Rosen said.
Bateman refused to comment on the substance of the transaction.
“It just blows me away how it gets turned around. I prefer not to comment,” he said.
It’s against Florida ethics laws for an elected official to “directly or indirectly” accept a gift worth more than $100 from a lobbyist, political committee or committee of continuous existence.
A lobbyist is defined in the law as “anyone who, for compensation, seeks...to influence governmental decision-making.” Rosen registered as a lobbyist for one of his companies in February 2012, about a month after the car was sold.
It’s also illegal, according to Florida ethics laws, for an elected official to be given a “preferential rate or terms” on a transaction, such as for a hotel stay.
Officials can receive gifts from non-lobbyists, but they have to be reported if the gift is worth more than $100. Records show that Bateman has not submitted any gift reports to the city, county or state since the Mercedes was bought.
Joe Centorino, head of the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and the Public Trust, would not comment specifically in regards to Bateman, but explained the county’s rules about gifts.
“When you become a public official, then the rules change with regard to a lot of things,” he said.
Centorino added: “If it’s a discount that’s available generally to the public — for instance, you go to the store and there’s a sale — that’s not a gift...But if it’s a particular discount given to that individual, period, and it’s not available to other people, then it falls into the definition of a gift.”
Bateman has voted on issues involving Rosen’s companies after Donna Bateman bought his car in January 2012, according to state and city records.
As mayor, Steve Bateman voted to extend the date of a contract that allows Rosen’s company, Shores Development, access to fill dirt that the city owned and that Shores Development paid $3.6 million for in 2004. Bateman also voted to extend a site plan approval for a charter school tied to Rosen, and to change the allowed uses on land that Rosen owns.
Law professor and ethics observer Bob Jarvis, of Nova Southeastern University, said elected officials should avoid transactions like the one that landed Rosen’s Benz in the Bateman’s driveway, if only because they can create an appearance of something fishy.
“It’s just very, very hard to believe that there isn’t something nefarious going on here,” he said. “The mayor should have said, ‘Don’t buy it because it puts me into a very untenable situation.’ It makes it appear that you can buy favor with the mayor’s relatives.”