Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Opa-locka taxpayers may foot legal bills for commissioner’s corruption case

Taxpayers may end up paying the legal bills for Opa-locka City Commissioner Terence Pinder, who served probation on minor charges after his arrest in a corruption case.

The commission is considering a resolution authorizing the payment of “reasonable fees” to Pinder’s criminal defense attorney, Ben Kuehne. The city may also give Pinder back pay for the several years he spent out of office after his arrest.

Commissioners were to vote on the item on Wednesday, but the meeting was canceled and will be taken up at another date.

Pinder was first arrested in 2006. Prosecutors had alleged that Pinder over the years engaged in a series of schemes, including accepting cash and gifts from a lobbyist working for a construction company doing business with the city. But after years of winding through the court system, the case fell apart.

Last year, Pinder pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor counts, while prosecutors dropped racketeering and unlawful compensation charges. Pinder was granted a “withhold of adjudication” – meaning no conviction appears on his record. He had to pay fines and was sentenced to probation, which he finished last month, according to court records.

Voters returned Pinder to office last fall, several months after he accepted the plea deal.

In a separate case, Pinder had also been accused of misusing a city credit card, a charge he ultimately settled by paying a fine with Miami-Dade’s ethics commission.

Opa-locka’s city attorney, Vincent Brown, sponsored the move to pay Pinder’s criminal defense bills. Kuehne is seeking at least $360,000 for over 800 hours of work over the years the case lasted.