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Charged again, ex-Homestead mayor says ‘whoop-de-do’ and he’s innocent

After Steve Bateman was reelected Homestead mayor in 2011, he threw himself a party.

Two years later, he is paying for it.

On Friday, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office arrested Bateman, charging him with breaking state election law with some of his post-election expenditures..

The state attorney stayed tight-lipped about the charges, saying only that Bateman faces seven misdemeanor counts for allegedly spending campaign contributions illegally. The expenditures took place from Nov. 6 to Dec. 23 in 2011, according to the state attorney.

“Whoop-de-doo!” Bateman said to emphasize that he did nothing wrong. “I am allowed to spend campaign money to buy my campaign workers lunch. It’s all very innocent, and they are reaching out to poke at me. ”

In the aftermath of his 2011 victory, Bateman hastily put together a party for his campaign workers in his home in the manicured Homestead subdivision of Keys Gate. It was not the last festive occasion for which the campaign would pick up the tab.

The State Attorney alleges that Bateman illegally spent money on several dates. Documents released Friday didn’t detail the expenditures.

Campaign forms show that during the span in question, he spent more than $1,000 at Sailfish Landing, a now-shuttered wine and spirits store; $400 at BJ’s, $75 for an event at Red Lobster and another $99 for an event at the Longhorn.

Bateman first stepped on the Homestead dais in 1995. Since then, he has served on the council on and off, most recently getting elected mayor in 2009 and then re-elected in 2011.

He has frequently faced criticism on ethical matters, for, among other things, directing staff to void a resident’s $10,000 electric bill and for his close ties to Ernesto Perez, the boss of a for profit college who needed favors from the city.

But he was never formally charged in connection with the complaints until August. At that time, he was arrested on corruption charges for securing a $125-an-hour job with a healthcare outfit that had business in front of the City Council. Bateman did not disclose the deal with Community Health of South Florida while working behind the scenes to help CHI. He was hit with two felony counts of unlawful compensation and three misdemeanors for violating county ethics code. Bateman has pleaded not guilty.

The arrest prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott to suspend Bateman from office.

Days after he was released from jail to await trial, Bateman and his supporters put on their signature red T-shirts inscribed with “Steve Bateman for Mayor” and campaigned to win his job back.

In the Oct. 1 primary, he placed third in a four-way race. His name will not appear on the runoff ballot Tuesday.

In contrast with his August arrest, during which authorities had to bide their time outside his home as he showered and dressed, Friday’s arrest was a quiet affair.

Bateman surrendered and was released on his own recognizance.

“I feel very confident that I've done nothing wrong,” he told the Herald.

On Friday afternoon, the city that clings to the southernmost tip of Miami-Dade County seemed alive with the chatter about the recent news.

“People are talking about it all around me,” said Councilwoman Judy Waldman, who was at a diner when she answered a call from the Herald. “Everybody is baffled and nobody understands why and what happened.”

In the end, say Bateman supporters, he will be vindicated.

“There’s no proof of anything. It’s just someone talking,” said Chris Carder, 59. “Mr. Bateman is innocent. I’ve spoken with him and I know his heart is in the right place for Homestead.”

Bateman has maintained that both of his arrests have been part of a “politically driven” campaign to smear his name.

“Seven of the same charges?” he said. “That’s harassment.”