Latest News

Officials accused of mixing private, public business

The Herald's investigation found city officials accused of offering and soliciting bribes. Some havevoted for their own projects. Others allegedly offered their votes in exchange for favorablebusiness deals.

ANDRES MEJIDES, 45, is current president of the City Council and an avid jogger and tennisplayer. He is an Eastern Airlines technician. His wife sells real estate for Pedro Realty.

Mejides asked the council to rewrite the city's zoning code to allow a larger apartmentbuilding on land he is helping to develop. Two city officials say he admitted having an interest inthe land but Mejides denies it.

His wife pulled him out of a restroom to vote for plans affecting property she was selling.Mejides abstained on a second vote and said that when he voted earlier he didn't know his wife wasinvolved. Both say they've done nothing wrong.

VINCENT LEAL, 46, is a land speculator and developer. He was known for requestingcontroversial zoning changes before he was appointed to the planning and zoning board two years ago.

Land records and interviews show he voted to rezone land on several occasions where hehad a personal interest.

He allegedly promised one developer that his zoning requests would be approved if he soldLeal 10 acres of land at a cut-rate price.

He has a long record of arrests but no convictions for offenses ranging from the sale ofnarcotics to shooting his wife's ex-husband.

Leal refused to be interviewed.

SILVIO CARDOSO, 32, exploited his city hallcontacts on his way to becoming a successful developer since he was first elected to the CityCouncil five years ago. He is one of the city's most powerful politicians.

The former football star has been paid more than $150,000 in real estate commissions frompeople who have requested zoning changes. He automatically gets commissions from one big developerwhether he participates in transactions or not.

Cardoso allegedly said his support for the Mango Hill project depended upon whether thedeveloper would sell his client 18 lots.

He denied any wrongdoing, saying, "I think I serve the best interest of the city."

RUBY SWEZY, 61, is a long-time real estate broker in Hialeah and has extensive land holdings in thecity.

As a council member, she votes on redevelopment plans that could affect the value of downtownproperty she owns.

She brokered the sale of land the city hoped to buy for a park. Her client will build apawnshop on the property as the result of an out-of-court settlement with the city.

Swezy received a commission from a developer who needed the city's approval and help ingetting tax-exempt bonds for an apartment complex.

"I don't see any conflict of interest," she said of her private business.

SALVATORE D'ANGELO, 49, formerly a television and newspaper reporter, is a real estate agent forMayor Raul Martinez' Martex Realty. He was elected to the city council in 1983.

Before he won his seat, D'Angelo put a $12,500 deposit on land he hoped to buy in thecontroversial Mango Hill residential development.

After the deal fell through, D'Angelo tried unsuccessfully to get the deposit back while hecontinued to vote on Mango Hill's requests. The developer agreed to return the money soon after thecouncil finally approved Mango Hill's plans. D'Angelo denied any wrongdoing.

SEBASTIAN DORREGO, 37, was a salesman for a grocery supplier before he was elected to thecouncil on a platform of reduced crime and taxes. Now he works in public relations for Trust Bank.

Dorrego's friend, Sammy Diaz, allegedly solicited a $15,000 bribe from a zoning applicantlast year in return for Dorrego's vote.

Dorrego and Diaz denied the allegation.

"I don't do that," said Dorrego. "Being apublic official there are always lots of rumors."

HERMAN ECHEVARRIA, 29, resigned from the city planning and zoning board during The MiamiHerald's investigation. President of the Hialeah Latin Chamber of Commerce and a protege of key cityofficials, he's a good bet to be elected to the council this year.

He benefited from a rezoning that allowed him to build two duplexes where a single house hadstood. Echevarria also voted to rezone land for a proposed bank that planned to make him a director.

Although he described the Mango Hill development as a disaster that should never havebeen started, he bought land there and sold it for a profit.

Echevarria denied any wrongdoing.