Crime

Homestead’s former mayor sentenced to 22 months in corruption case

Ex-Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman wipes away tears after Judge Robert Luck sentenced him to 22 months in state prison on Friday, Dec. 19,2014.
Ex-Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman wipes away tears after Judge Robert Luck sentenced him to 22 months in state prison on Friday, Dec. 19,2014. Miami Herald Staff

Steven Bateman, the former Homestead mayor convicted in a corruption case, was sentenced Friday to 22 months in prison.

Bateman was given the lowest possible sentence, but his lawyers have petitioned Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Robert Luck to dole out even less by going below Florida’s sentencing guidelines and putting Bateman on probation and house arrest.

“Where I made a mistake, I didn't do it intentionally,” Bateman told the judge on Friday before his sentence was announced. “It has taken everything I built. It has washed it away.”

Bateman was released on a $40,000 bond pending appeal.

The sentencing hearing came three months after a jury convicted Bateman of illegally wielding his influence as mayor while secretly on the payroll of a healthcare company needing government clearance to build a clinic in Homestead.

On the stand, a slew of supporters depicted Bateman as a homegrown hero who dedicated his life to improving Homestead, and an outstanding father to his son Austin, who has autism.

“With the help of a supportive community, Steve helped usher in new growth and economic prosperity in Homestead,” his lawyers wrote to the judge.

Sobbing, his wife Donna Bateman took the stand to ask for a lower sentence. “He never set out to do anything bad. This man has more good to do.”

Prosecutors asked for no less than six years in prison to “send a strong message to public officials that corruption is unacceptable.”

Bateman, 59, was arrested 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.

In a highly unusual move, City Manager George Gretsas — with the blessing of the city council — sent a letter last month to the judge detailing Bateman’s history of “inappropriate, behind-the-scenes behavior.”

That includes orchestrating a staff purge, ordering a previous city manager to cancel an electric bill for a friend and obtaining free plane and limousine rides from lobbyists.

The criminal case revolved around Bateman, who ran a construction company, soliciting 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 insisted that Bateman's job was legitimate and wholly separate from his role as mayor. He was convicted of felony illegal compensation.

Bateman's defense lawyer, Ben Kuehne, said Friday the appeal could take up to a year. In the meantime, the former mayor of Homestead will be allowed to live in his home and work.

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