Miami-Dade County

Sentencing of former Opa-locka supervisor convicted of bribery postponed at last minute

Former Opa-locka public works supervisor Gregory Harris
Former Opa-locka public works supervisor Gregory Harris The Miami Herald

The federal sentencing of the first Opa-locka official convicted in a long-running FBI corruption investigation — originally scheduled for Thursday — was postponed to a later date.

No new sentencing date was immediately scheduled for Gregory Harris, 44, a former assistant director of public works who resigned in early August before surrendering to authorities. He is expected to receive at least one year in prison, according to the terms of his plea agreement.

Harris pleaded guilty at the end of August to conspiring with a city commissioner, an assistant city manager and other employees to shake down business owners who were pressured to pay thousands of dollars in bribes to obtain water connections and operating licenses.

The North Miami resident, a pastor of an Opa-locka church who leads Bible studies, has been cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s office since the FBI’s raid on City Hall in March. His cooperation has included possible testimony before a grand jury that is zeroing in on other targets of the investigation, including City Commissioner Luis Santiago.

Harris’ one-time boss, David Chiverton, who rose from assistant city manager to city manager over the past year, also pleaded guilty to the same bribery conspiracy charge and is awaiting sentencing in November. Chiverton, 51, is expected to receive a sentence of at least three years.

Prosecutors said Harris conspired with “Public Official A,” Santiago, and “Public Official B,” Chiverton, in the bribery scheme from March 2014 to March 10, 2016, the day of the raid. Chiverton is the only official identified by name in Harris’ factual statement filed with his plea agreement. Santiago, who is running for reelection in November, has yet to be charged.

In April, the Miami Herald published a detailed story on how Harris and other top city officials shook down business owners who were working undercover for the FBI in a series of backroom bribes recorded on video. The investigation is among the largest corruption probes in South Florida history.

According to court records, Public Official A, Santiago, solicited and obtained “illegal payments” from businesses and individuals who were seeking occupational licenses and other permits for their properties in 2014 and 2015.

In exchange for cash bribes, Santiago directed Harris and other Opa-locka employees to take care of the requests for occupational licenses, water connections, zoning benefits and code enforcement violations.

Public Official B, Chiverton, also solicited and obtained “illegal payments” in the same scheme. In exchange, he also directed Harris and other employees to take care of the businesses’ licensing requests and water service.

“Chiverton also would sometimes make payments to Harris in connection with these matters,” according to a factual statement filed with Harris’ plea agreement. “In addition, Harris solicited and obtained personal payments in exchange for using his official position to assist businesses and individuals in relation to their city of Opa-locka water service.”

On April 10 of last year, Public Official A, Santiago, told a businessman working undercover as an FBI informant to meet him outside the commissioner’s house to resolve his water bill to avoid service being shut down, according to Harris’ statement. Later that day, Santiago met with the informant outside the commissioner’s house and “accepted $850 in cash” from him to prevent the water from being turned off, it added.

Four days later, Public Official A, Santiago, asked Harris to go to the informant’s place of business, an auto repair body shop, “to stop an Opa-locka employee from shutting down” his water service and also “instructed Harris not to talk to anyone about his request.”

On April 15, Harris told Public Official B, Chiverton, that he “attempted to collect additional money” from the informant “in connection with the business’ water-service billing issues.”

A month later, Harris met with another businessman-turned-FBI informant and “accepted a $300 cash payment in exchange for having the water service turned back on” at his business, according to Harris’ statement. “After accepting the $300 payment, Harris directed two Opa-locka employees to turn the water back on” at his business.