During the 2010 holiday season, North Miami Beach’s top elected official introduced a series of 20 bus bench ads showing his smiling face and the words: “Happy Holidays from Mayor Myron Rosner.”
Those bus benches, Miami-Dade prosecutors say, led to Rosner’s arrest Thursday on a series of allegations of campaign financial misconduct involving bus bench ads.
The former mayor, who lost his reelection bid in 2011, was booked into jail Thursday as his defense attorney, Ben Kuehne, insisted Rosner was no criminal.
“As a political candidate, he has always attempted to follow the complex requirements of election and campaign finance laws,” he said. “He is confident he has done his best to comply with the law, and any errors that resulted were neither intentional nor harmful.”
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Miami-Dade police and public corruption prosecutors say otherwise.
The saga began when Rosner hired Martin Outdoor Media and R&D Printing for the holiday ads, which were billed as independent — and not city or campaign expenditures.
But detectives uncovered that Rosner paid $450 to R&D from his campaign account, which amounts to grand theft from the political account, according to an arrest warrant prepared by prosecutor Breezye Telfair.
The benches were to stay up until Jan. 15, 2011.
But one of Martin Outdoor’s partners told detectives that Rosner coerced the company into keeping the bus bench ads in place — for free — for an additional month. Rosner should have paid an additional $1,389.39, investigators calculated.
One of Martin Outdoor’s owners, Scott Martin, told investigators he agreed because he was “scared of losing” the company’s contract with the city, which is up in 2014.
With his campaign money, Rosner later bought $4,500 in legitimate political bus bench ads, but never reported it and later insisted that the company reimburse him the money to one of his political action committees, the warrant said.
Martin told investigators that “he has never been ‘shaken down like this’” and that he feared Rosner because of his mayoral position and because his wife is a judge.
Rosner is married to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel. Prosecutors, in their warrant, pointed out that there were no allegations that any judges committed any wrongdoing in this case.
Martin Outdoor did not cash the check until April 13, one day after Martin was subpoenaed by investigators. Two days later, Rosner amended his campaign finance report to show that he had indeed cut a $4,500 check.
Rosner, 52, is charged with a series of felony and misdemeanor counts, including unlawful compensation for official behavior, grand theft and falsely reporting campaign expenditures.
To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the Florida Supreme Court assigned the initial case to a Broward judge, who signed the arrest warrant.
The case stems from complaints filed with the Florida Elections Commission last year by blogger and activist Stephanie Kindle, who has complained about Rosner’s conduct for years.
The criminal case was investigated by Miami-Dade police, the ethics commission and prosecutors.
Rosner was unseated in 2011 by political newcomer and citizen activist George Vallejo.