Homestead - South Dade

Shiver’s checkered past includes role as FBI informant in Opa-locka corruption case

During his roller-coaster career in the public eye, Homestead mayoral candidate Steve Shiver has played many roles — from small-city politician to big-time county administrator to police union director.

His résumé has had many highs (past mayor and commissioner of Homestead, Miami-Dade county manager, executive director of the Police Benevolent Association) and many lows (millions in unpaid debts, personal and business bankruptcies, unproven allegations of drug use and ongoing criminal investigations by the city he hopes once again to lead).

But there’s one thing you wouldn’t have seen until now: “FBI confidential informant.”

The FBI tapped him for that part when he was hired as city manager by Opa-locka, a notoriously corrupt city, in September 2015, according to public records obtained by the Miami Herald. He reached out to the feds, he says, even before his formal hiring by Opa-locka after being approached by the city’s mayor and her husband to give them a few thousand dollars in cash because they were in such financial straits.

As an FBI confidential source, Shiver had to keep his mouth shut when he was publicly accused by a local contractor of soliciting a $150,000 bribe from him in exchange for agreeing to pay his invoice for work on a local sewer project.

One month after he was hired as city manager, Shiver was branded in a letter by the contractor as a middleman who sought the bribe to divert to then-Mayor Myra Taylor and her husband, the Rev. John Taylor. They allegedly planned to use the kickback money as a down payment on a new church project.

The contractor’s allegation against Shiver, which sparked a front-page story in the Miami Herald before his firing as Opa-locka’s city manager that November, turned out to be false. Shiver and Opa-locka’s commission — with the exception of Mayor Taylor — never approved the contractor’s invoice. Records show the bill, including a list of change orders on the sewer project, was fabricated.

IMG_SHIVER_OUT400_JAI_2_1_E56L0RMT_L182468441 (1).JPG
Steve Shiver, former mayor of Homestead, is running to regain the job.

In an interview with the Herald Friday, Shiver said he couldn’t talk about his undercover role for the FBI before because it would have compromised the bureau’s corruption investigation in Opa-locka, which ended with seven extortion convictions — none of them apparently related to the work Shiver had done.

“In this case, I wasn’t allowed to defend myself,” Shiver told the Herald, citing his secret relationship with the FBI. “It was frustrating for me, but I feel vindicated that it’s finally coming out.”

Shiver is hoping the revelation of his role as an FBI confidential source will help his bid for Homestead mayor on Oct. 1. Opponents — other candidates are Jeffrey Porter, Bradley Compton and Steven Losner — have highlighted his controversial history as a politician, bureaucrat, businessman and subject of investigations.

(The Homestead Police Department probed Shiver when an associate of his was pulled over in March 2018 for driving erratically. There were illegal drugs in the car, police said. The driver promised to land cops a “bigger fish” — Shiver. He said he was used regularly by Shiver to purchase “eight balls” of cocaine and offered to work undercover to prove it. Instead, police said, he went back to Shiver and said detectives were trying to catch him in a sting, thus blowing up the investigation. The case was closed, although two other unrelated investigations of Shiver remain open.)

Evidence compiled by an investigator for the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust in the fall of 2015 shows that Shiver used his position as city manager to make audio recordings of his discussions with Opa-locka contractor George Howard, as well as the mayor and her husband, at the direction of FBI agents.

Howard asked Shiver, the new city manager, to pay him $272,000 for a purported change order on a pump station project, according to the investigator’s report. Howard’s plan was to take $150,000 of that payment and kick it back to Taylor and her husband, records show.

Shiver recorded Taylor as she tried to coax the city manager into carrying out the kickback scheme with Howard, according to the ethics investigator’s summary of events as they unfolded. During one encounter at his City Hall office, Shiver told the mayor: “You could go to jail for this.”

She didn’t — and neither did Howard.

But the FBI’s public corruption probe in Opa-locka eventually yielded convictions of seven people, including Shiver’s successor as city manager, a city commissioner and a lobbyist with close ties to Taylor. The seven all pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy charges involving extortion of local business people for thousands of dollars in exchange for municipal licenses and permits.

Taylor and Howard did not return several phone, text and email messages seeking comment. The FBI in Miami said it could not confirm or deny whether Shiver worked as a confidential informant in the Opa-locka investigation.

Shiver, 53, admitted to his confidential informant role during the interview: “I’ve done a lot of things in my life,” he said, “but I’d never worn a wire before for the FBI.”

Howard, whose company was renovating an apartment complex for low-income residents, had actually done some work on the pump station project because it benefited his housing development. But the final invoice seeking $272,000 for additional work on change orders was falsified by an Opa-locka official to cook the kickback deal with the mayor and her husband, records show.

Shiver had recorded several of his undercover discussions with the mayor, her husband and Howard for the FBI’s corruption probe, according to the investigator’s report.

In mid-October 2015, Shiver sent the ethics investigator an urgent text message saying he needed to talk with him. The Opa-locka city manager had just received a letter from Howard in which the contractor accused Shiver of soliciting the bribe on behalf of the mayor after the contractor demanded payment for the sewer project. Howard claimed that Shiver “expressly stated” that the city’s payment for his sewer project work could only be made if Howard paid a kickback to the mayor.

“Upon hearing your insidious requests, I emphatically stated that not one cent of this money would be given to the mayor,” Howard wrote in the Oct. 16, 2015, letter, which was copied to the mayor, city commissioners and building director. “Such an act would be blatantly illegal and would in no way be something that my company or I would ever be a party to.”

According to the ethics investigator’s summary of what actually happened, the contractor was not only lying in his accusation about Shiver but also about his plot to kick back money to the mayor.

“[Shiver] said he was afraid Howard would attempt to leak the letter to the Miami Herald and further sully his reputation,” ethics investigator Karl Ross wrote in the nine-page summary of his real-time interactions with Shiver.

A week after Shiver received Howard’s letter, the Herald published the front-page story titled “Contractor claims Opa-locka manager Steve Shiver sought bribe.” At the time, Shiver declined to comment about Howard’s bribery allegation. “Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it, but it will all come out in the end,” he said.

The proposed kickback arrangement unraveled because Shiver refused to back the plan to pay Howard so he could kick back some of the money to the mayor and her husband and keep the rest for himself, the Herald later learned.

In subsequent coverage, Howard said he agreed to the arrangement, but only to recover money he said the city already owed him.

The mayor previously told the Herald that she did not take part in any backroom deal to obtain a kickback as part of Howard’s sewer project to enrich her family. “I would not have condoned that at all,” she said. “I’ve never asked anyone for anything.”

Cowboy (1).jpg
Steve Shiver in period getup at Ghost Town in the Sky. The amusement park went bust and parts of the property slid down the mountain for lack of a retaining wall, damaging homes.

Shiver, whose job in Opa-locka lasted just three months, received an $87,500 severance package. He would not rebound from the Opa-locka fiasco until he was hired as executive director by the Dade County Police Benevolent Association in January 2018. But his tenure at PBA would not end well either.

He resigned in May from the $140,000-a-year PBA post after the Herald published an article detailing his financial woes, both personal and related to a bankrupted theme park in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, called Ghost Town in the Sky. Shiver had filed for personal bankruptcy, erasing his debts, shortly before accepting the lucrative PBA position. And Ghost Town in the Sky was not only propelled into bankruptcy during Shiver’s time operating it, but partially slid down a mountain, damaging homes, when a retaining wall failed.

When the PBA job ended, that’s when Shiver decided to run for mayor. The race got off to a raucous start when City Manager George Gretsas, saying Shiver was impugning the police department’s integrity, issued an extraordinary 109-page memo to the City Commission. Filled with exhibits, it described the police department’s narcotics investigation into Shiver, which imploded when the motorist/informant betrayed his handlers.

The memo said two other criminal investigations of Shiver were ongoing. While the other probes were not described, sources told the Herald at least one involves a Shiver associate named Janet LeGrand, who was arrested for allegedly faking her civil engineer credentials while seeking multimillion-dollar deals in Homestead and Florida City, where Shiver’s father is the vice mayor.

Shiver portrays Gretsas as a longtime antagonist.

“He takes this memo, this dossier if you will, and uses the public’s fear to try to manipulate and intimidate the election,” Shiver said.

He said assertions that there are ongoing investigations are wrong.

“There is no other investigation,” Shiver said. “I know that for a fact from my friends that are in the police department who have been told to do things that they will not do anymore.”

Gretsas — who helped authorities build a case against a previous mayor, Steve Bateman, who was sentenced to prison for corruption — declined to comment.

There will be a runoff if no candidate gets a majority next Tuesday.

Miami Herald staff reporters Monique O. Madan and Devoun Cetoute contributed to this report.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments