An ethics investigation of a former Homestead council candidate has been dismissed and no charges will be filed.
Former Homestead council candidate Larry Meno Jr. had been accused of accepting an unreported $1,000 cash contribution from the city’s former mayor, Steve Bateman, during the Nov. 3, 2015, election. The year before, Bateman was convicted of illegal compensation and illegal lobbying after a series of stories in the Miami Herald and on CBS4 about his links to a string of health clinics needing favors from the city.
The investigation was launched after the ethics commission received an email from former Homestead councilman Steve Losner.
Meno had been accused of reporting the cash as a personal loan to his own campaign. At the time, he was running for the District 2 seat and the vice mayor seat. He eventually lost to Jon Burgess and Patricia Fairclough.
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During an investigation this winter by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, Meno said the cash was his own money and that he had it at home in case of an emergency.
Investigators concluded “it was not possible to document the origin of the $1,000 loan that Meno made to his political campaign,” despite a handful of interviews by associates who claimed Bateman gave him the money, including Meno’s campaign treasurer, Keeley Ehrenreich; and Tony Garcia, manager of the Lawrence Leo Roth campaign for another council seat.
By Election Day, Meno reported receiving $1,300 in campaign contributions from supporters — and a $1,000 personal loan — totaling $2,300.
Meno said Friday that many people sought to smear his reputation during the campaign.
“When I entered the political arena in 2015, I was largely unaware of the potential consequences and intertwined players and private interests that work clandestinely to deter, derail and smudge the integrity and reputation of anyone attempting to honestly and wholeheartedly move the political process forward in the best interest of the citizens of this great community,” Meno said.
Michael Murawski, the ethics commission’s advocate, said investigators couldn’t prove Meno did anything wrong.
“Theoretically, lots of people have cash hoards at home,” Murawski said. “And if they say they have $1,000 lying around at home, how am I going to disprove that? Lots of people do that and we couldn’t disprove it.”
Investigators, however, did find that Meno committed a minor ethics breach when he ordered two sets of political signs on Sept. 16 without having enough money in the bank to cover the costs. Florida Statute 106.11(4), requires that “no candidate ... shall authorize any expenses ... nor sign a check drawn on the primary account for any purpose, unless there are sufficient funds.”
Meno placed one order in the amount of $906.83; the other for $588.50. The candidate’s campaign account had a balance of $327.50 on Sept. 16.
A few days later, Meno deposited $1,000 and paid for his order, bank records and teller footage shows. After the deposit, all Meno campaign checks cleared without bouncing.
On Feb. 19, the ethics commission closed its investigation of Meno’s campaign finances.
Investigators dropped the case because Meno committed a “minor transgression,” said Joseph M. Centorino, the ethics commission’s executive director.
“We file complaints with the Elections Commission when there’s a serious violation,” Centorino said. “In this case, it’s not like somebody’s check bounced. It’s a relatively minor issue. It was thoroughly investigated and if the more serious allegation had been proven, it’s likely something would have been filed.”
Meno told the Herald that after he announced his candidacy in 2015, he “ became a lightning rod for insinuation, persecution and false accusations.”
“Allegations, false or not, have the same effect on public opinion and it is my contention that the people behind these allegations got exactly the effect they were pursuing,” Meno said. “This trumped up ‘scandal’ had the sole purpose of deterring my campaign and eroding my voter base.”
“It is this sort of ‘dirty pool’ and unwarranted consequences and struggles that deter the fair and honest citizen from pursuing public service,” he said. “Unfortunately, I fear the process and some players remain forever tainted and unduly influenced to continue to put their interests and those of their private sector supporters above those of the citizens and community they claim to represent.”