Miami-Dade County

Little Haiti Cultural Center subject of public corruption investigation

Sandy Dorsainvil, manager of the Little Haiti Cultural Center, left, and Joann Milord, director of the Northeast Second Avenue Partnership, at the Caribbean Market Place in Little Haiti.
Sandy Dorsainvil, manager of the Little Haiti Cultural Center, left, and Joann Milord, director of the Northeast Second Avenue Partnership, at the Caribbean Market Place in Little Haiti. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

The Little Haiti Cultural Center, recently the source of a near-mutiny at Miami City Hall, is the subject of a public corruption probe, the Miami Herald has learned.

Dealings at the center and adjoining Caribbean Marketplace at 212 NE 59th Ter. have been under investigation for at least two months, according to emails released by the city in response to a public records request. It’s unclear when the investigation started, but in February a Miami police investigator was quietly pulling records about who had rented the facility since June 2013.

I am conducting a criminal investigation

quote from Feb. 26 email by Miami police officer Sergio Diez

“As you know, information was brought to the State Attorney’s Office Multi-Agency Public Corruption Task Force. I am conducting a criminal investigation into the Little Haiti Cultural Center and the Caribbean Market Place,” Officer Sergio Diez wrote on Feb. 26 to a senior staff analyst for Miami’s department of real estate and asset management.

Though the released emails did not reveal the specific focus of Diez’s investigation, the ongoing probe helps put context to a controversial decision one month ago by city manager Daniel Alfonso to fire the center’s manager, Sandy Dorsainvil. Her sudden and unexplained termination sparked an uprising in Miami’s Haitian community and a protest at City Hall that ended with area city Commissioner Keon Hardemon unsuccessfully moving to fire Alfonso on April 14.

Even then, the manager declined to discuss the circumstances of Dorsainvil’s firing, although privately he had explained to some of her supporters that issues at the center were under investigation. Hardemon hired her to work for his office starting April 18, but frustration with her firing still festers and protestors briefly returned to City Hall last week to demand she be reinstated.

Dorsainvil, who was hired to manage the cultural complex in September 2013, did not return a call Thursday to her cellphone. Dorsainvil told the Miami Herald shortly after her firing that despite the rumors, she was unaware of an investigation or a related city audit — which would make sense when considering that Diez wanted to keep the probe from becoming common knowledge at the complex.

“Just don’t request anything from LHCC,” he told Gabriel Brito, the Miami staff analyst.

The dozens of emails released by the city late Wednesday included a few tense exchanges between Dorsainvil and the director and assistant director of the city’s real estate department over grant applications and invoices, some of which Dorsainvil emailed to herself on April 4 shortly after she learned she’d been fired. Some emails were to city officials from community members demanding to know why Dorsainvil had been fired from her post overseeing activities at an important cultural institution.

You’re innocent until proven guilty

Commissioner Keon Hardemon

A city spokeswoman declined to discuss the investigation Thursday, but said the center continues to operate normally. The facility, which hosts art shows, dance classes and community events, is in the process of being transferred back to the city’s parks and recreation department as part of a move to signal that Miami intends to continue operating the complex primarily to serve the community.

Hardemon also declined through an office spokeswoman to comment. But he told a reporter shortly after announcing he had hired Dorsainvil that he had seen a draft copy of an unpublished city audit of the center, and was aware that an investigation was ongoing. Despite that, he said, nothing he’d seen or heard made him concerned about hiring Dorsainvil.

“You’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said.