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South Miami police supplier hires chief's son

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics said last week that the South Miami Police Department can continue to purchase equipment from Lou’s Police Distributors, a company that recently hired the police chief’s son.

“The son has no direct or indirect financial ownership in the company and will not be involved in the local contract, or profit from it,” the commission on ethics said in a press release.

Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro had asked for the opinion.

The opinion comes at time when a majority of the commission wants Martinez de Castro out of a job. The chief has a case pending with the commission on ethics, after investigators reported finding evidence there were a few transactions involving the police department and his wife’s business. Also, Mayor Philip Stoddard has been accusing the chief of breaking state rules when he signed off on a $9,998 gun repair expense that used state forfeiture funds to pay for gun repairs at Lou’s Police Distributors.

Stoddard said that the police department broke Florida rules of use, because the purchase was an operating expense and it was not part of an “extraordinary” program, as state rules require. Martinez de Castro said the expense was part of a Military Surplus program that allowed the department to buy and convert M-16 rifles into semi-automatic rifles.

Meanwhile, the chief’s eldest son, Christopher Martinez de Castro, is the new vice president of international sales at Lou’s Police Distributors, which has been a South Miami supplier for about two years, has contracts with many departments in Miami-Dade County and also sells weapons and tactical equipment in Central and South America.

“It’s an entirely different department. Where the city will piggyback on a bigger contract to get a better deal, I work with clients from around the world,” the chief’s son said. “I have nothing to do with sales to South Miami – absolutely nothing. It is just being brought up because they [commissioners] want to attack him.”

Stoddard and his supporters have been poring over public records related to the chief’s use of public funds. Most recently, Stoddard threatened to file a lawsuit against the city, after Maj. Ana Baixauli refused to release records that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement protects and can only be requested to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Commissioners have accused the chief of abusing his position to target those who oppose him, after two commissioners’ friends were arrested — including Commissioner Bob Welsh’s friend who was a homeless Canadian undocumented migrant with a criminal record.

Commissioner Walter Harris said Martinez de Castro has continued to show a special interest in cases involving politicians’ friends and family. The chief has said that his officers have only been doing their job when the politicians’ friends and family have broken the law, because “any special treatment” would mean breaking the law.

On Jan. 5, Harris’ wife, Eda Sagi Harris, who has been active in South Miami politics for years, damaged a parked silver Honda Odyssey while backing out of a parking space at the Dadeland Station Mall garage in Southeast Miami-Dade. She was driving the commissioner’s blue Toyota Corolla and told police that she “scratched” the car but left the scene, because she didn’t “hit it.”

Several cars from Miami-Dade police and South Miami police showed up at her home, after surveillance video identified her. Miami-Dade police cited her for “leaving the scene of an accident,” which is a misdemeanor. The police reports referred to the incident as a hit-and-run and estimated the “minor” damage at $500.

“That was not a hit-and-run. It doesn't even compare,” Walter Harris said. “And there was no reason why my name had to be in the report. I wasn’t involved.”

In recent weeks, the political animosity in South Miami has taken a turn for the worse. Welsh recently told The Miami Herald he didn’t like the police chief’s “sociolismo” ways. The word is a play on two words in Spanish: “socio,” which means “associate” and “socialismo,” which means socialism. The chief was born in Cuba and moved to Miami after Fidel Castro came into power.

“ ‘Sociolismo’ is in ‘Cubaniche.’ It means he is going to his buddies for this, and going to his buddies for that,” Welsh said.

Welsh, also known as Bicycle Bob, said that since he took office last year he has been afraid of doing things like talking about “strategy” with political activists on his cell phone for fear that the chief has him under surveillance, although he has no concrete evidence.

Welsh has repeatedly said that he doesn’t like that Martinez de Castro is friends with convicted felon Camilo Padreda, a former Batista agent in Cuba and former FBI informant. Last year, the city signed off on a contract with Padreda’s daughter’s business to install new carpets. And although city staff did not have any evidence of collusion, Welsh and Stoddard were suspicious.

Commissioners Valerie Newman, who Padreda supported during her campaign, and Vice Mayor Joshua Liebman are supportive of the chief. Meanwhile, Martinez de Castro has chosen not to attend commission meetings for months and has hired two attorneys, one to handle the ethics case and another to deal with his treatment at the city. Brickell attorney Paul Totten said he has been observing commission meetings on behalf of the chief.

"I am not a politician. In serving the community, I have tried to stay out of the political process," Martinez de Castro said in a statement. "While it is difficult to understand the way things have unfolded, my main concern is continuing to uphold my oath and my duty to serve the City of South Miami as the Chief of Police. That is the job that I was hired for and that is the job I will continue to do."

His contract expires Oct. 19, 2015.

Follow reporter Andrea Torres on Twitter.

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