Miami-Dade County

Beach to hire Miami-Dade police to probe spending at Police Athletic League

Miami Beach’s City Manager no longer needs the state attorney's advice on whether the city should further investigate the Miami Beach Police Athletic League.

City commissioners voted Wednesday to hire Miami-Dade police to probe deeper into allegations that the publicly subsidized charity was used as a slush fund for some board members and employees.

Commissioner Jerry Libbin proposed a second look into the PAL after former board-member-turned-whistleblower Steve "Bubba" Cohen made a monthly appearance before commissioners Wednesday and continued to lob allegations of a police internal affairs coverup and misuse of funds.

"The story just seems to be getting worse," Libbin said.

Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower said she has always questioned where PAL’s money is being spent.

"The PAL never did a program in their life to help anyone as long as I was here," Bower said.

Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez wrote a letter to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Rundle last month asking her to reopen a criminal investigation into PAL. Her public corruption unit looked at a city audit and a Miami Beach Police probe into the charity in 2009, but all agreed there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Cohen, and his attorney, retired Miami-Dade prosecutor Abe Laeser, both urged her to dig deeper, believing that the city probes not only didn’t go far enough, but were so incompetent that the investigations amounted to a cover-up.

PAL President Robert Jenkins has declined to comment since the matter is before the state attorney. The state attorney is still considering Gonzalez’s request.

In the meantime, commissioners said they want an outside law enforcement agency to scrutinize the PAL, which is the oldest in the state.

“We weren’t going to have our own police department investigate themselves again,’’ Libbin explained.

For years, Miami Beach’s PAL was run by Bernard Winer, a former Beach police officer who was forced to resign in 2009 amid allegations that he used his tax-exempt corporate credit card for personal purchases and also made large-scale deals without the approval of PAL’s executive board.

Winer has also declined comment.

Two separate city audits, in 2006 and 2009, found gross mismanagement at the PAL. Among other things, auditors said PAL allowed the city’s Fraternal Order of Police and a private company to use its tax-exempt certificate to conduct events, thereby enabling them to avoid paying taxes.

Auditors also said that PAL misspent thousands of dollars per year on wedding gifts, Costco memberships for police officers and their wives, food for funerals, flowers and dinners for board members and other PAL acquaintances.

Money was missing from PAL’s gym, which is run by a male porn star even though the executive board fired him in 2009. The gym is a for-profit business run by PAL which charges membership fees to both adults and students. The city also runs a busy afterschool program in PAL’s building, located in Flamingo Park.

The Miami Herald has requested financial documents from PAL, which is partially funded by city dollars. However, PAL hired an attorney, Israel U. Reyes, who said it will take him 30 days to review the request to determine whether the information the newspaper is requesting is subject to public records laws.