North Miami - NMB

Ethics Commission: North Miami councilwoman may have exploited her position

North Miami councilwoman Marie Steril’s mother received fancy upgrades to her home purchased through a city program.

Marie Charles-Brutus received high-end counter tops and appliances because her daughter insisted city staff make the home more luxe.

Thursday, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust found probable cause Steril exploited her official position when she asked for the nearly $8,000 in upgrades.

Steril did not immediately respond to a message left on her cellphone.

This is not the first time Steril’s familial connection has raised concerns over this property.

The city was awarded $2.8 million under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to rehabilitate and sell foreclosed homes to first-time home buyers. The program is run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

One of the recipients who qualified for and later moved into a two-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse was Charles-Brutus.

In July 2012 monitoring report by HUD, the city was told it would have to repay all expenditures related to the property purchased by Charles-Brutus.

North Miami taxpayers had to reimburse HUD $154,800 in federal money used to purchase and rehab Charles-Brutus’ home. The reason: Steril failed to disclose that Charle-Brutus is her mother.

According to HUD rules, elected officials must disclose any family ties to individuals who will benefit from the city-run program, and obtain an opinion from the city attorney, Steril did neither.

Federal law requires the city to report any potential conflict to HUD. According to the 2012 report, no one from the city staff flagged Charles-Brutus' application and the possible conflict because "the city staff has indicated it was unaware of this requirement."

According to the ethics commission, while the two-bedroom two-bathroom townhouse was being renovated in 2011, Steril asked city staff for higher quality countertops and appliances valued at more than $7,700.

When other buyers in the same city program asked for similar upgrades, offering to pay the difference themselves, they were told they had to settle for the specifications outlined for the home renovations.

If the commission finds Steril violated the Miami-Dade County Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance, she could face fines and a public reprimand. A spokesperson for the commission was not available for comment Thursday.