Miami-Dade County

Former Homestead mayor’s trial begins

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

When Community Health of South Florida needed help with government permits for a new clinic, Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman convinced the company to give him a lucrative and secretive gig as a “consultant” to “make the wheels go faster,” a prosecutor told jurors Monday.

Bateman’s trial started Monday more than one year after the former mayor was arrested in a case that roiled the South Miami-Dade city.

Prosecutors say Bateman‘s job as an $125-an-hour consultant was illegal – a corruption of his job as the elected mayor, who used his influence to help the non-profit company get permits from the county.

“He cannot intertwine ... his official position as the mayor to get the City of Homestead to do certain things, or exert his influence to get the county to expedite and assist,” Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Isis Perez told the jury during opening statements.

But his defense attorney painted a different portrait of Bateman, who was first elected in 2009.

Bateman owned a small construction business but earned a paltry $6,000 a year for his part-time but time-consuming role as the mayor of a city still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, defense lawyer Ben Kuehne told jurors.

Kuehne insisted that Bateman’s work was not for CHI but for all of Homestead, which had been hard hit by the lack of business development.

“Downtown Homestead was dying,” Kuehne said.

The 59-year-old is charged with two felony counts of unlawful compensation, plus three misdemeanors relating to violations of the county’s ethics code.

Authorities arrested Bateman in August 2013 as he was running for reelection. He is also facing a separate case, accused of illegally using campaign funds to throw parties for campaign staffers.

Bateman continued to campaign even after Florida’s governor suspended him. He lost the election.

The allegation revolves around CHI’s proposed Children’s Crisis Center which was slated for historic downtown of Homestead. The project has been in limbo because the federal government had put a moratorium on adding connections to the city’s sewer water pump station.

As mayor, Bateman supported the crisis center and even met with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in an effort to hurry up the pump permit. He also billed CHI for the meeting.

Kuehne

said prosecutors have “misinterpreted” Bateman’s bills to CHI, and the job managing construction project for the non-profit was “perfectly permissible.”

“The evidence will not show you a hint of corruption,” Kuehne told jurors.

The trial continues Tuesday before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Robert Luck.

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