Hialeah restaurant owner tried to bribe commissioner, state says

Rancho Okeechobee
Rancho Okeechobee

When the owner of Hialeah’s Rancho Okeechobee needed permission to keep the restaurant open late for a special event, he walked into the office of County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.

“You have a friend in Rancho Okeechobee,” he wrote in a letter, according to Miami-Dade police.

And inside the envelope: $700 cash.

The envelope stuffed with cash led not to political favors but to the arrest of Elezear Gadea, the restaurant owner, who has been charged with offering a bribe, authorities said. He later gave an undercover detective — posing as a commissioner’s aide — $2,000 in cash to help him, according to police.

Gadea, 47, was arrested early Wednesday and was still jailed in the afternoon. Court records did not list a defense lawyer.

“This open and brazen disrespect for our government, for our system, for our elected officials, is really so disheartening,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “To openly walk into a government office with an envelope with cash is really bold.”

A licensed contractor, Gadea once worked as a former building inspector for the cities of Miami and Sunny Isles Beach.

The bizarre case began in early March, when Gadea visited the office of the West Miami-Dade commissioner, complaining that he believed code-enforcement was trying to shut down his business at 17015 W. Okeechobee Rd.

A couple of days later, Gadea insisted on coming back to the office. That’s when he left the envelope with the $700 cash, according to an arrest warrant.

After he left the envelope, Diaz’s staff called Miami-Dade police. A public-corruption detective posed as a member of Diaz’s staff and arranged to meet Gadea at a Sweetwater McDonald’s.

During the secretly record meeting, Gadea said he wanted help in keeping his Nicaraguan restaurant open until 4 a.m. for a spring-break party, and to be able to sell liquor, not just beer and wine, according to an arrest warrant.

Gadea also complained about a pesky code enforcement officer who had told him he couldn’t hold the event.

Gadea also offered $2,000 to contribute to the commissioner’s campaign, and even asked if he could hire police officers to work as security for the event.

He told the undercover detective that once the event happened, “Believe me there is money, afterward we sit down in chapter number two, we can do a lot of things,” the warrant said.

Gadea then gave the detective an envelope with $2,000 with the caveat that if the party didn’t happen, he would “need the money back.”

After he was confronted, Gadea admitted his scheme to police, the warrant said.