Crime

Former Homestead mayor may soon go to prison, three years after corruption conviction

Former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman at his 2014 trial for corruption. An appeals court on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, upheld his conviction.
Former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman at his 2014 trial for corruption. An appeals court on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, upheld his conviction. Miami Herald File

Former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman soon could be headed to prison after an appeals court on Wednesday upheld his conviction in a corruption case.

Bateman was sentenced to 22 months in prison three years ago, but has been free on bail as he awaited the outcome of his appeal. On Wednesday, the Third District Court of Appeal dashed his hopes, saying there was “sufficient competent evidence” to support his conviction for unlawful compensation and failing to register as a lobbyist.

His defense lawyer on Wednesday called the decision “disappointing” but could not immediately say whether he would appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. “We are evaluating our next steps,” said attorney Ben Kuehne.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office could not immediately say when it will ask a judge to take Bateman into custody to start serving his prison term.

“We are very pleased with the Third DCA’s decision upholding the corruption conviction of former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman. We proved our case beyond a reasonable doubt,” State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said in a statement.

The decision comes after a jury convicted Bateman in December 2014 of illegally wielding his influence as mayor while secretly on the payroll of a healthcare company needing city clearance to build a clinic in Homestead.

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Then-Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Robert Luck presided over the 2014 conviction of former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman. On Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, an appeals court upheld his rulings in the case and the conviction. Luck, now a member of the appeals court, did not participate in the appeals case. WALTER MICHOT Miami Herald File

Bateman, 62, was initially arrested and charged in August 2013 as he was running for reelection, a campaign he eventually lost. His tenure was tumultuous. Elected to a largely ceremonial position on the city council, Bateman often clashed with elected leaders and staff at City Hall.

Prosecutors said Bateman, who ran a construction company, solicited a job as a $125-an-hour “consultant” for Community Health of South Florida Inc., or CHI.

At the time, CHI was planning to build a new children’s crisis center in downtown Homestead. Construction was delayed because of a lack of connections to a sewage pump. The city had agreed to build a bigger pump station, but Miami-Dade County officials had halted the project over concerns about the facility’s design.

Jurors agreed that Bateman used his position to try and sway county officials to speed up their approval of the pump station.

The key evidence: A February 2013 meeting in which Bateman, outwardly acting in his elected role, met with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and county staff to push the pump issue. Gimenez testified in court that Bateman never revealed he was on CHI’s payroll during that meeting. Later, Bateman billed the company for his meeting at County Hall.

Defense attorneys Kuehne and Michael Davis insisted that Bateman’s job was legitimate and wholly separate from his role as mayor.

“The decision fails to recognize Mayor Bateman’s good faith efforts to carefully separate his public position as an elected official from his individual work responsibilities to provide for his family,” the lawyers said Wednesday of the appeals court decision. “He is evaluating his available legal options, and intends to continue pressing for a judicial determination of his actual innocence. He looks forward to the day when he achieves vindication.”

Then-Circuit Judge Robert Luck refused a request to throw out the entire case, although he did dismiss a second felony charge, a decision that was also upheld Wedneday. Luck, now a member of the Third District Court of Appeal, did not participate in the appeals case.

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