North Miami Beach Commissioner Frantz Pierre has been suspended from office after his arrest on a string of corruption charges. including soliciting a bribe from a strip club owner.
The executive order from Gov. Rick Scott, signed late Wednesday night, prohibits the troubled commissioner from “performing any official act, duty, or function of public office.” It also blocks Pierre from receiving a city paycheck, benefits or any privileges from his public office.
Pierre, 53, was arrested Wednesday and charged with single counts of bribery, unlawful compensation, an organized scheme to defraud and grand theft, along with seven additional counts of money laundering. Prosecutors said he shook down a local strip club operator for thousands of dollars in exchange for votes to allow the club to sell alcohol for extended hours, until 6 a.m.
First elected to office in 2007, Pierre is also accused of stealing taxpayer money intended for a school food program that never existed. Pierre, who has been undergoing a medical condition that requires dialysis treatment, has been mired in ethical and legal issues the past year.
He was removed from office in January after failing to attend a commission meeting for six months. Then in May he was found guilty by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust of using his position to threaten the job of a female code enforcement officer who found violations at his home. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to cover costs into the investigation of $500.
Pierre’s employer, the Miami-Dade School District, moved to terminate his employment Wednesday as a bilingual specialist at Oak Grove Elementary, the school where prosecutors say public money was funneled for a bogus program. Pierre had been on a two-year school board-approved leave of absence.
Pierre remained jailed at the Turner Guilford Knight correctional center on Thursday, not yet posting a $35,000 bond. His arrest order demands that Pierre prove that any money put up for his release was obtained legally.
Pierre’s suspension is the latest bad news for a city that has been plagued with vacancies throughout much of the year. Earlier this year the mayor’s seat was left empty when North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo stepped down after pleading guilty to diverting thousands of dollars of campaign cash to shell corporations that he used for personal expenses. Commissioner Beth Spiegel, vice mayor at the time, was appointed mayor.
Then in April, the city was left without a quorum and unable to vote on city business, as three of the seats on the six-member board were empty. A judge reinstated Pierre so commissioners could vote on items. Since then, two new commissioners have been appointed, Fortuna Smuckler and Ingrid C. Forbes. With Pierre’s suspension, commissioners will again have to vote, this time for Pierre’s replacement.