Barbecue bribery: Payoff for commissioner at rib joint caught on undercover video

Barbecue Bribery: Payoff for commissioner captured on undercover police video

Prosecutors say Elezear Gadea, owner of the Rancho Okeechobee west of Hialeah, paid $2,000 to an undercover cop posing as an aide for county commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.
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Prosecutors say Elezear Gadea, owner of the Rancho Okeechobee west of Hialeah, paid $2,000 to an undercover cop posing as an aide for county commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.

Elezear Gadea, the owner of a barbecue joint west of Hialeah, wanted a politician’s help to keep his restaurant open late for a lucrative liquor-fueled spring-break party.

So he handed over an envelope stuffed with $2,000 cash — but with a sheepish caveat.

“If I can’t do the event, you’ll have to give it back to me,” Gadea said. “How embarrassing.”

The scene unfolded inside a backroom office of the Rancho Okeechobee restaurant, as Gadea met with who he believed was an aide to a Miami-Dade county commissioner. The aide was, in fact, an undercover Miami-Dade corruption detective — who was secretly video recording the whole thing.

Prosecutors this week released the footage they believe clearly shows Gadea, a former municipal building inspector, paying the bribe in March 2016. Gadea, 48, who was arrested late last year, is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to a felony bribery charge.

His lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Gadea owns the restaurant at 17015 W. Okeechobee Rd., which he boasted to the undercover detective has “the area’s best barbecue ... chicken, everything.” It’s located in a rural area west of Florida’s Turnpike that is home to nurseries, small farms and also illegal slaughterhouses and cockfighting operations.

But Gadea, police said, wanted to keep his restaurant open until 4 a.m. for the spring-break party, and also to sell liquor, not just beer and wine. He was upset that a code enforcement officer had told him he could not hold the event.

So on March 3, 2016, Gadea walked into the west Miami-Dade office of County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz. He left an envelope with $700 and a letter. “You have a friend in Rancho Okeechobee,” he wrote, according to an arrest warrant. Diaz’s staff called Miami-Dade police.

A public-corruption detective, Luis Robainas, posed as a member of Diaz’s staff and arranged to meet Gadea at a Sweetwater McDonald’s. During the meeting, which was also video recorded, Gadea told him the $700 was for the commissioner’s campaign. And he promised more.

“You help me with this, and on Monday, I’ll contribute $2,000,” Gadea said in Spanish, according to the video.

Days later, the detective met again with Gadea, this time at the barbecue restaurant. In a back-room office, Gadea complained at length about the code-enforcement officer and begged for help with the event.

“For me, this event is very important,” Gadea said, promising more payoffs. “Believe me, there is money. After this, in the second chapter, we can do a lot of things — brother, help me.”

Finally, Gadea handed over the envelope, but said he’d need it back if the event didn’t go off as planned.

“If I can’t hold the event, I’m going to have to go out on the streets and find cash,” Gadea said.

The detective took out the cash and counted it — right in front of the hidden camera.