Miami-Dade County

Cellphone records could bolster opponent’s case to unseat Commissioner Joe Carollo

Joe Carollo, left, beat Alfonso “Alfie” Leon in a race for the District 3 seat on Miami’s City Commission. Now, Leon is accusing Carollo of being ineligible to run. The legal challenge is playing out in a trial in Miami-Dade civil court.
Joe Carollo, left, beat Alfonso “Alfie” Leon in a race for the District 3 seat on Miami’s City Commission. Now, Leon is accusing Carollo of being ineligible to run. The legal challenge is playing out in a trial in Miami-Dade civil court.

Cellphone records could bolster a legal case to unseat Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo, according to a motion filed by his political opponent’s attorney during the weekend.

The trial began Friday in a lawsuit filed by Alfonso “Alfie” Leon, who lost to Carollo in November’s runoff election for the District 3 seat on the City Commission. Leon is challenging Carollo’s eligibility to run for office by arguing that Carollo — who famously used the courts to overturn Miami’s 1997 mayoral election amid evidence of absentee ballot fraud — didn’t live in the district he sought to represent for a year before the deadline to qualify for the ballot.

Carollo and his wife Marjorie testified that they leased a West Brickell apartment on Sept. 22, 2016, one day before the deadline to establish residency in the district. In Carollo’s case, he had to be a resident in District 3 for one year before the deadline to qualify on Sept. 23, 2017. The Carollos said they slept each night at the apartment in Brickell Station Lofts and spent their days working and with family at the Coconut Grove home Joe Carollo has owned for more than a decade, which is outside District 3. He said his presence at the apartment increased as the campaign wore on in 2017.

Records that show which cellphone towers transmitted calls from Joe Carollo’s cellphone during the first three months of the 2016 lease at the Brickell Station Lofts unit could throw a new wrinkle into the case.

In an emergency motion filed late Saturday and obtained by the Miami Herald on Sunday, Leon’s attorney J.C. Planas asks Judge Thomas Rebull to add an expert witness to Leon’s witness list. Planas contends that cellphone records obtained through subpoena show Joe Carollo made few calls from the area near the apartment during the first three months of the lease and almost daily calls from the vicinity of his Coconut Grove home on Morris Lane.

Planas writes in his motion that he received the cellphone records from T-Mobile/MetroPCS the night before the beginning of the trial on Friday and could not get an expert to examine the records until the weekend. Saturday afternoon, he retained Oubay Atassi, an executive for Buenos Aires-based telecommunications company iCondor, to analyze the data.

Later in the day, Atassi signed a sworn declaration stating that 13 calls from Joe Carollo’s cellphone were transmitted through four cellphone towers in the vicinity of the West Brickell apartment between Sept. 26 and Dec. 31, 2016. Only one of those calls came after 10 p.m. Atassi’s analysis found that five cellphone towers near Carollo’s Coconut Grove home show calls being made in that area “virtually every single day” during the same time period.

“Furthermore, the pattern of calls indicates that the amount of calls made from towers near [Brickell Station Lofts], during the evening hours that the Defendant claimed to spend there, did not start occurring until AFTER Jan. 5, 2017,” Planas wrote.

On Sunday night, Carollo’s attorney Benedict Kuehne lambasted Leon and his legal team for the 11th-hour motion.

“This sniping by a person who could not amass any semblance of a victory at the polls needs to stop,” Kuehne told the Miami Herald. “And his lawyers’ efforts to bring last-minute fabricated evidence is something that should be rejected by the courts.”

In a statement Sunday, Planas said the phone records strengthen a point he’s made using Carollo’s electric bills. In court Friday, Planas questioned Carollo on the low electricity usage at the Brickell apartment for the first several months of the lease.

“The cellphone records show that the Joe Carollo did not start sleeping at the apartment until January,” he said. “This just reinforces what is already evident by the electric bills.”

Friday’s testimony mostly centered around the Carollos’ daily routines, cooking habits, work schedules and personal time with each other and their family members. Leon’s attorneys, Planas and Matt Sarelson, tried to emphasize the Carollos’ absence from the apartment while Carollo’s lawyer Kuehne painted a portrait of a couple tending to loved ones during the day and sleeping in their new apartment at night.

The trial resumes Monday at 9 a.m. in downtown Miami.

Former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo crashed a press conference Friday called by supporters of his District 3 City Commission opponent, Alfie Leon, outside his Coconut Grove house. He says accusations that he didn't qualify to run in Tuesday's runoff el

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech