Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo has led a code enforcement crusade in his district, much of it focused on properties associated with Little Havana businessman Bill Fuller. The developer has said he’s the victim of selective enforcement encouraged by a vindictive commissioner.
So Fuller did some of his own digging, and now he claims the commissioner has some violations of his own on a Coconut Grove property he’s owned since the early 2000s. Standing outside City Hall on Thursday next to poster boards with pictures of the outside of the commissioner’s home and property records, Fuller called Carollo a “fraud” and asked the city to investigate a slew of alleged code violations on Carollo’s property.
The pictures included Google street view images showing Carollo changed the roofs of three carports on his property between 2008 and 2009 and cut down a banyan tree between 2009 and 2015. Fuller also presented aerial photographs that show Carollo has done unpermitted work on a wooden deck.
“My grandmother used to tell me, ‘People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,’ ” Fuller said. “Now, you would think that Joe Carollo, after months of attacking us with code violations, would himself have always complied with the city code and have a clean history with no code violations.”
Fuller said Carollo “should be subjected to the same full inspection of his property that we have been relentlessly subjected to.” Then Fuller submitted the complaints to the city.
A Miami Herald review of the full permit history of the property showed Carollo has not pulled any permits related to work on this property. Code enforcement records show he has not been cited for any violations.
After Fuller’s press conference, held during Thursday’s City Commission meeting, Carollo said he didn’t need permits. The commissioner said he had to cut down the banyan tree because it was diseased. He also said he did not need permits for the carport or deck work, citing state and county laws that allow homeowners to make repairs on their property if the work is valued under $2,000.
Carollo drew distinctions between commercial properties such as those owned by Fuller and homes in neighborhoods, arguing that he would not skip paying a $45 permit to make repairs.
“I’m telling you that everything that he’s shown you is not valid whatsoever,” Carollo said. “He hasn’t done his homework.”
Since returning to elected office in 2017, Carollo has used his elected position to direct the code enforcement’s focus on a string of properties in his district, most of them associated with Fuller. He has gone on Spanish radio to disparage Fuller, accusing the businessman of having leftist ties and wanting to “de-Latinize” Little Havana. In February, the commissioner made an hours-long presentation on apparent code violations at several Fuller properties, a tense hearing that included a shouting match between the two men.
Fuller has had his properties repeatedly inspected since Carollo’s election, and Carollo has proudly admitted to late-night stakeouts to find violations. During an ethics investigation into the matter, a former aide told investigators that Carollo pressured him to lie about the commissioner’s interest in code issues on Fuller properties, a claim that Carollo has denied.
The businessman said his broader point is that if city inspectors looked hard enough, they could probably find violations on most properties in Miami — so he shouldn’t be singled out.
“I am guilty of code violations. Absolutely,” he said. “But it’s when you target individuals that the system is getting abused.”
Carollo has countered with stacks of code records that, in his view, show Fuller was allowed to improperly occupy an unfinished building years ago, long before Carollo returned to public office. He’s also pointed out that recent inspections have yielded violations, including two at Ball & Chain — one for work done without a permit and another related to an unsafe structure. The city administration confirmed that the pineapple stage behind the club was built without permits.
Administrators have also worried they are being directed to target Fuller properties, according to internal emails.
The bitter feud has played out in the media and spilled into federal court, with Fuller suing Carollo, alleging political retaliation. Fuller’s suit is still pending in federal court. The judge is expected to soon consider Carollo’s motion to dismiss the case. A magistrate judge recently recommended the court grant the motion.