Miami-Dade County

Homestead officials, manager blast ex-mayor in letter to judge ahead of sentencing

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Ex-Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman is scheduled for sentencing on corruption Dec. 19, and the City Council of Homestead wants to give him a push toward the prison gate.

At a commission meeting Wednesday, the council approved a letter written by City Manager George Gretsas that blasts the former mayor for “inappropriate, behind-the-scenes behavior.”

Some of the claims have been tackled by the county’s ethics commission or in court; others not.

The manifesto comes weeks after Bateman was found guilty of illegal compensation and failing to register as a lobbyist.

The letter is to be sent to Circuit Judge Robert Luck, who is presiding over the former mayor’s case.

The now-convicted felon was arrested and charged Aug. 2013 while in the midst of a re-election campaign, which he lost. Bateman, who had served two terms as mayor, was subsequently removed from office by Gov. Rick Scott.

On Oct. 30, a jury found him guilty of using his influence as mayor to lobby on behalf of Community Health Inc. of South Florida, a company looking to build a clinic in downtown Homestead.

Bateman was paid $125 an hour by CHI to help the clinic obtain necessary permits, which on one occasion led him to meet with County Mayor Carlos Gimenez on company time.

The 16-page letter lists in chronological order questionable conduct by Bateman that goes beyond his dealings with CHI.

Gretsas says it is evidence of “a series of strong-arm tactics … and the utilization of his position as mayor to enrich himself” that began as soon as Bateman took office.

In summary, here’s what the letter claims:

▪ Upon taking office, Bateman began a push to convert the city’s government to a strong-mayor system, which would give him more power. It accuses Bateman of “orchestrating the purging of professional staff” already in office when he arrived and of using his influence to hire friends to city jobs.

▪ Bateman directed then-City Manager Sergio Purrinos to zero-out a $10,499 electric bill for Joseph Strano, the owner of a food truck that fed Bateman campaign volunteers.

▪ Bateman also directed staff to stop disconnecting accounts for unpaid electric bills.

▪ Bateman accepted free plane and limousine rides from lobbyists doing business in Homestead, namely Dade Medical College. The county’s ethics commission investigated and found probable cause he had a conflict of interest.

▪ The ex-mayor exerted his influence over the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to push for property sales without going to bid, including to Dade Medical College.

▪ As chairman of the CRA, Bateman voted on an issue involving a developer who was in business with Bateman’s wife.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the letter. Before roll call, Councilmen Jimmie Williams and Elvis Maldonado stepped off of the dais. Neither stated a reason before walking away and they could not be reached for comment later.

“It chronicles the whole scenario of what we thought was a problem down here for the city,” Councilman Jon Burgess of the letter. “We felt that the judge should see that this wasn't one isolated occurrence. There were many other issues to take into consideration.”

Follow the reporter on Twitter @MelhorL.

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