Opa-locka’s former vice mayor, lobbyist, sentenced to two years’ probation

The public-corruption case involving former Opa-locka Vice Mayor Terence Pinder and lobbyist Dante Starks, which began in 2007, concluded Monday after the two accepted plea deals from the state.

Pinder and Starks were each sentenced to two years’ probation and will have to pay fines of $2,500. Both pleaded no contest to four counts of conflict of interest and the rest of the charges against them — including racketeering and unlawful compensation —were dropped. The two will face up to eight months in prison if they violate probation.

The case is ending after a years-long investigation into public corruption and illegal financial exchanges in Opa-locka following the arrests of Pinder in 2006 and Starks in 2007.

Their fines, for the costs of investigation, will be applied to the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Public Corruption Unit and the county Commission on Ethics, respectively, and adjudication will be withheld.

The legal contingency plea agreements were initially presented after a pretrial hearing last Friday, and Pinder and Starks’ lawyers discussed the propositions with prosecutors. The state also brought new counts against Starks and Pinder Monday. Two additional counts of conflict of interest which Starks plead to, and all four of the counts of conflict of interest against Pinder.

The two men could have their probation terminated early after a year, but Judge Miguel de la O stressed to Starks and Pinder that he would only make that decision if the two did more than just the required community service.

“I don’t see why a defendant should be early terminated for just doing what they’re supposed to do to begin with,” said de la O.

Pinder said he was relieved that the case was finished. He said he spent about $200,000 on his defense and remains convinced that he did not knowingly commit a crime.

“From the beginning I knew nothing was intentionally done wrong to disarray the public trust,” said Pinder.

The former Opa-locka commissioner said he may consider a return to public office later this year saying that he, “never stopped being an activist” for the city. He ran for a commission seat in 2012 losing to current commissioners Joseph Kelley and Luis Santiago.

Starks deferred to his lawyer, Rod Vereen, who echoed Pinder’s sentiments about the plea agreements.

“He took this plea as a matter of convenience; this case has been hanging over his head for all this time,” said Vereen.

Prosecutors initially alleged that Starks made almost $1 million as a lobbyist for the APAC Group, Hard J. Construction and PAWA Architects and Engineers. PAWA is owned by Emmanuel Nwadike, who pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges in 2011 and, according to prosecutors, secretly gave more than $60,000 to Pinder and City Commissioner Timothy Holmes between 2004 and 2007. Holmes has not been charged.

Pinder was first arrested and charged with multiple counts of grand theft, filing a false campaign statement and official misconduct for allegedly misusing his city-issued credit card for personal expenses. Those counts were later dropped.