David Chiverton devoted much of his life to helping Miami-Dade’s inner-city communities, heading up a government program aimed at rooting out crime while trying to create jobs.
He dabbled briefly in politics, losing a bid for the Miami City Commission, and soon bounced back to serve as the top administrator for the city of Opa-locka.
Then he got into trouble.
On Monday, the 51-year-old administrator surrendered in federal court in Miami on a charge of using his office to pocket thousands of dollars in bribes while shaking down local businesses seeking licenses in one of Florida’s poorest cities.
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Appearing in handcuffs and leg braces, the once-popular city manager who resigned from his job last week pleaded not guilty, was granted a $50,000 bond and was released in the afternoon.
He is among a host of Opa-locka government leaders and insiders who have been under investigation over the past three years by the FBI, which enlisted a cadre of business owners as informants to videotape backroom bribes and payoffs with the former city manager and others.
His surrender comes just days after the arrest of another city official: public works supervisor Gregory Harris, who pleaded not guilty on Friday and also was released on a $50,000 bond.
Soon, a sweeping indictment is expected to be returned by a federal grand jury that will likely name other high-profile targets, including City Commissioner Luis Santiago.
Both Harris and Chiverton, who began cooperating with the FBI after agents raided City Hall in March, plan to cut plea deals with the U.S. attorney’s office in exchange for their knowledge about a host of alleged extortion activities in nearly every city department, including code enforcement and water services.
Harris’ defense attorney, Nathan Diamond, has declined to comment.
In court, Chiverton’s lawyer, David Garvin, said his client “will be accepting responsibility” for his misconduct and that he “has been actively cooperating” with investigators.
In an interview, he noted that certain politicians put enormous pressure on Chiverton to squeeze local business owners for cash in exchange for favors. Garvin said his client should have “simply quit his job” rather than go along with the schemes. But he needed to keep his position, which paid $123,500 annually.
According to the criminal “information” filed on Friday, Chiverton conspired with Commissioner Santiago, Harris, the public works assistant director; Corleon Taylor, Mayor Myra Taylor’s son; and others, including powerful City Hall lobbyist Dante Starks — although only Chiverton and Harris are named in the documents.
Chiverton and the others are accused of plotting to “unlawfully enrich themselves” by demanding and receiving “payments and other things of value” from Opa-locka businesses between March 2014 and March 2016.
Santiago, identified as “Public Official A” in the criminal case, not only solicited and took bribes with the help of the city manager, but also shared in the illegal dollars with the city manager while directing local business owners to deliver money to him.
Chiverton also directly obtained “illegal payments” from three business owners who worked undercover for the FBI. Although not identified, two of the informants told the Miami Herald about a series of bribes involving Santiago, Chiverton, Harris, Starks and Corleon Taylor.
Frank Zambrana, who owned an equipment storage business, and Francisco Pujol, who runs a tire recycling company, told the Herald that they paid Chiverton and the others thousands of dollars to get badly needed occupational licenses as well as water connections — all while videotaping the deals for the FBI.
Chiverton’s charging document states that in January of last year, he twice met with Santiago and Zambrana at City Hall to discuss the business owner’s request for an occupational license.
During one of the meetings, Chiverton took Zambrana into his office and accepted a $500 cash payment. Zambrana “promised five more chocolates today if you finish,” the court records state.
Later that day, Jan. 12, 2015, Zambrana met again with Chiverton in his office and passed along $500 more in cash. After that meeting, Zambrana also paid $500 in cash to Santiago in the parking lot at City Hall, records state.
Two days later, Zambrana met again with Chiverton, who noted the names of other Opa-locka officials that would have to be paid off in exchange for his occupational license. Chiverton asked Zambrana to bring him $2,500 for “this purpose,” the information said.
On Jan. 14, 2015, Zambrana gave Chiverton $1,000 in his office, and he agreed to take care of fines and liens imposed on his equipment business. Later that January, Zambrana gave Chiverton an additional $1,000 in the parking lot at City Hall.
The following March, Zambrana paid Chiverton another $1,200, records state.
Toward the end of last year, Santiago and Chiverton began extorting Pujol, a tire recycling business owner, who also needed an occupational license. Santiago asked him for $2,500 — 10 times the actual cost of the permit. Santiago eventually settled for $2,000 — which Pujol paid in two equal installments, records state.
Last February, Santiago told Pujol that he would have to pay $2,500 to Chiverton, too, records said. On Feb. 4, 2016, Pujol paid Chiverton the cash bribe in the foyer of the bathroom at City Hall.
With Chiverton’s cooperation, the FBI and prosecutor Ed Stamm may be able to build an even stronger case against other city officials suspected of shaking down local businesses for cash.
Four years ago, Chiverton was hired as the assistant city manager and rose to the top post in November after the city commission fired his predecessor, Steve Shiver, following his public disclosures that Opa-locka was almost broke. A state oversight board appointed by the governor took over the reins of the city’s finances in June.
By then, Chiverton had taken a temporary leave of absence for “medical reasons” after the Miami Herald disclosed that he had cashed in nearly $40,000 in unused sick and vacation time to which he was not entitled.
Rather than return to his office as city manager, Chiverton formally resigned his job on Aug. 1, saying it was time to “move on.”