Homestead - South Dade

Ethics commission clears Homestead’s Jimmie Williams over automotive, residency issues

Councilman Jimmy Williams
Councilman Jimmy Williams

The state attorney’s office and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has closed an investigation into Homestead Councilman Jimmie Williams.

The case was shut about a month after a September Miami Herald article raised questions about whether Williams was living outside the city he represents. The story also examined his frequent communication with Jay Rivchin, a car dealer who was seeking approval to build a Hyundai dealership on the site of Homestead’s shuttered bowling alley. It also cited Williams’ role in introducing his goddaughter to Rivchin, operator of Dadeland Dodge, who sold her a car.

“There does not appear to be probable cause to find any violations of the Miami-Dade County ethics code or state or local residency requirements,” said Karl Ross, an ethics investigator.

The Herald had reported that while Williams, a pastor, claimed an address in Homestead, he appears to occupy a house in Miami Gardens that is made available to the pastor of the church he serves in that city. Five neighbors in Miami Gardens told the Herald he lives in the home. It was listed as his residence on divorce papers.

Joe Centorino, executive director of the commission, which was investigating Williams’ residency before the Herald story was published, said the finding that Williams in fact lives in Homestead is based mainly on two things.

“He was there when we knocked and he voluntarily let investigators in,” Centorino said of the Homestead dwelling. “Also, the interview with the landlord basically confirmed that the rent had been paid by him. The fact that someone is paying rent for a place indicates an intent to occupy and reside. He was sitting on the bed smoking a cigar when they knocked. ... That’s probably sufficient under the law. ”

The close-out memo said the living room of the Homestead residence was unfurnished except for a plastic green chair, but that the bedrooms were furnished. Williams said the furniture was taken after he and his wife split.

Investigators concluded that Williams did not exploit his official position by communicating more than 400 times with Rivchin over his city-issued mobile device before the city’s favorable vote on his project because Rivchin had registered with the city as a lobbyist, and the bowling alley is in Williams’ district.

He was sitting on the bed smoking a cigar when they knocked... .That’s probably sufficient under the law.

Joe Centorino, ethics commission executive director

They also said there is no evidence that Williams sought special benefits for himself or Michelle Mitchell, his goddaughter, by referring her to Rivchin for a car purchase. The report did say Williams “showed questionable judgment, since this created an opportunity for a financial conflict — one that certainly raised a red flag and invited scrutiny by investigative agencies.”

Investigators found that while Mitchell paid $14,500 for the black, four-door 2013 Chrysler 200, less than the recommended retail value of $17,100, it was still a reasonable amount.

The Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Williams for comment.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan