Dunn finance report draws more scrutiny

11/01/2013 7:17 PM

11/04/2013 12:32 PM

The campaign of Miami city commission candidate Richard P. Dunn II came under scrutiny Friday when the city clerk asked the state to look into the campaign’s most recent finance report, and a U.S. Post Office inspector said he believed the candidate mailed the report to the city 18 days after the Oct. 4 deadline — much later than the campaign claims.

Dunn, considered the frontrunner for the city’s District 5 seat in Tuesday’s election, filed a campaign finance report with the city last week that listed some questionable spending, and the campaign has admitted to paying some workers in cash, which is against state elections law.

The report was due at the city clerk’s office Oct. 4, but arrived Oct. 24, city records show. Still, Miami Elections Coordinator Dwight Danie accepted it as on time after seeing a postmark on the 1-Day Priority Mail envelope dated Oct. 4. The Dunn campaign told Danie it had mailed the report on Oct. 4 but it had gotten tied up in the mail.

The timing is important because state law says a campaign may be fined $500 for each day a finance report is late.

In a letter sent to the Florida Division of Elections on Friday, Danie said that after receiving complaints from the public, he wanted the agency to determine if “we are following the right path.”

“I clearly understand that campaigns are always testing boundaries. But it is my understanding that even to look up the USPS tracking number goes beyond the ministerial duty of the filing officer let alone trying to interpret a USPS tracking report,” Danie wrote. “I have informed the people complaining of the process of filing a complaint with your office or the office of the State Attorney.”

Danie also says in the letter that Dunn contacted him repeatedly to see if the financial report had arrived.

“As time went by after Oct. 4, the candidate was contacting me daily to see if I had received the report…. He clearly expressed his concern to me,” Danie wrote.

Also on Friday, U.S. Postal Inspector Tracy Schaeffer said there is evidence the report due Oct. 4 did not enter the mail system until Oct. 22. Schaeffer said the postal service began looking into the matter this week after a group of citizens approached one of his officers.

Asked for comment, the Dunn campaign had not responded by Friday evening.

Schaeffer said video taken at the post office’s General Mail Facility at 2200 NW 72nd Ave. shows someone purchasing a pre-paid postage label for 1-Day mail with a scanning code on it at 6:08 p.m. Oct. 4, stuffing it in an envelope, then leaving without mailing it. That date and time correspond with a tracking report of the purchase of the pre-paid envelope by the Dunn campaign that was made available by the postal service. The post office, Schaeffer said, has no record of the envelope with the tracking number being scanned — which Schaeffer said happens when the mail officially enters the system — until 18 days later, on Oct. 22.

The tracking report lists the Oct. 4 visit as “Acceptance (SSK),” which Schaeffer said only means that the prepaid postage label was purchased at a self-serve kiosk, not that it entered the mail system. The tracking record shows “Acceptance” on Oct. 22, which Schaeffer said is when it was initially scanned and first entered the system.

That means, according to Schaeffer, that if Dunn’s campaign finance report was in that envelope it could not have been mailed before then, as the campaign contends.

“Once it’s received, it’s scanned immediately,” said Schaeffer. “If you put it in the mail on the 4th, it would have been scanned on the 4th. We know it wasn’t in the system [before then] because it wasn’t scanned.”

Tracking records show that on seven different occasions over Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 the priority mail was “dispatched,” “processed,” or “sorted,” until it was finally “delivered” at 10:49 a.m. on Oct. 23. Danie said he received it the next day.

Dunn, the senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church , has occupied Miami’s District 5 seat several times in the past. His main challenger is Keon Hardemon, an assistant Miami-Dade public defender whose family has long ties to Miami’s political scene. The two other candidates are Miami-Dade Children’s Trust executive Jacqui Colyer and Jackson High substitute teacher Robert Malone Jr.

The district covers a large diverse swatch of the city from Overtown north to Liberty City, and east through Shorecrest and Belle Meade. The four candidates are campaigning to replace Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who is term-limited. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, a runoff election between the two top vote-getters is on Nov. 19.

Danie’s letter to the state and the investigation by the postal service came at the request of a group of community leaders who have played key roles in past elections in the district. Political operative Tangela Sears and Nathaniel Wilcox, who heads the community group People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, or PULSE, pressed Danie to question the validity of Dunn’s campaign report, and Wilcox contacted the postal service.

Sears has worked with former Congresswoman Carrie Meek, and Wilcox is a longtime ally of Spence-Jones, who has thrown her support to Hardemon.

Sears said she is doing some fundraising for Colyer this election cycle. Wilcox said he isn’t backing any candidate, but wants a clean election in a district that has been plagued for decades by campaign and representation problems.

“My main concern is that the process not be prostituted for the benefit of any one candidate,” Wilcox said.

Spence-Jones and Dunn have a contentious history. The pastor first lost to her in a nasty runoff in 2005, when both candidates were fined for campaign irregularities. Spence-Jones eventually agreed to a fine of $8,000 for improperly giving cash to campaign workers. Dunn was fined $875 for incomplete reports and bounced checks.

Dunn was chosen to replace Spence-Jones during her second term after she was suspended from office in 2010. He later won a special election for the seat, which he held until Spence-Jones returned to her post in 2011.

Friday’s developments come a week after the Miami Herald reported that Dunn’s Oct. 4 financial report contained some irregularities, including an unusually high number of visits to a number of restaurants, often several times a day.

Dunn’s campaign manager, Gregory King, admitted to paying some workers in cash, which is against state law. Two women named in the campaign finance report told the Miami Herald that they were paid $20 or $30 in cash for day’s work, but not near the 43 times reported in Dunn’s report. Records submitted to the city show the campaign lumped payments to seven women 43 times for a total of $18,283.60. The checks supposedly paid to the women as a group ranged from $60 to $3,000.

Dunn has had money problems in the past.

He resigned as assistant pastor at Drake Memorial Baptist Church in the early 1990s after confessing to the board of trustees that he had used church funds for personal expenses. He eventually paid the church back.

The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Miami city clerk’s office had sent a copy of the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II’s campaign finance report to the state. The clerk’s office’s email to the state Division of Elections did not contain a copy of the report.

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