Plundering a small town
Hialeah’s “junkyard millionaire” Raul Sosa Sr. and his son, Raul Sosa Jr., pleaded guilty Wednesday to paying bribes to an Opa-locka politician and a city lobbyist to obtain a towing contract.
Both men admitted paying $10,000 in 2015 to then-City Commissioner Luis Santiago and lobbyist Dante Starks in the broadening FBI corruption investigation at Opa-locka City Hall.
The bribery arrangement was organized in a meeting between the Sosas, Santiago and Starks after the city sought bids from towing contractors that year, federal prosecutors said.
The Sosas, who are scheduled for sentencing in August, were arrested on conspiracy and bribery charges in early April — just days before FBI agents brought Starks into custody on those charges as well as extorting several other Opa-locka business owners.
Santiago has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to more than four years in prison. He is assisting the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in their case against Starks.
So far, six defendants, including the Sosas, have pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy charges in the Opa-locka case. Santiago lost his city commission seat in 2016 after a series of Miami Herald stories reported that he was the main target of the probe of an extortion scheme involving payoffs for official favors. The one-term commissioner is the only politician to be convicted in the investigation.
Starks is a former Miami-Dade police officer who earned the reputation of running a “shadow government” in Opa-locka because of his close relationship with Santiago and Mayor Myra Taylor. Although he was arrested in mid-April, Starks has not been arraigned yet because he has not formally hired his defense attorney, David Howard. Starks is scheduled to enter his plea in Miami federal court on Friday.
Two years ago, Raul Sosa Sr. and his wife, Maura, went to prison for tax evasion because of their failure to report millions of dollars in income from his Hialeah tow-truck and scrap-metal business. The company, Accion 1 Auto Sales, raked in almost $29 million in revenue from 2004-08, but the Sosas were hiding much of that income from the federal government by reporting only a fraction of their actual sales during the five-year period.
The Sosas, convicted at trial of defrauding the Internal Revenue Service for failing to report at least $4.5 million in business profits, were sentenced to prison terms of 6 1/2 and four years, respectively. The couple, who formerly lived in Miami Springs, owed $1.5 million in federal income taxes.
The Sosa connection to the Opa-locka corruption probe was through Santiago. Last year, Santiago admitted accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from local businessmen in need of permits, and sharing that cash with other Opa-locka officials, including a former city manager now imprisoned. The businessmen were actually working undercover for the FBI and recording the payoffs.
Santiago, who was elected to the commission in 2012 but was defeated four years later, admitted in his guilty plea that he plotted with other top officials and employees to pocket up to $40,000 in bribes in a scheme that shook down several local business owners and corrupted nearly every level of the city’s financially troubled government.
In addition to Santiago and the Sosas, three others have pleaded guilty in the Opa-locka case: former City Manager David Chiverton, who was sentenced to three years in prison; ex-Public Works supervisor Gregory Harris, who received a three-year probationary sentence; and Demetrius Corleon Taylor, the son of Mayor Taylor, who was sentenced to 10 months.