Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Hialeah Mayor Hernandez displays his contempt for ethics in 28 buckets

One of the 28 coin-filled buckets Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández delivered to the county ethics commission
One of the 28 coin-filled buckets Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández delivered to the county ethics commission Miami

Carlos Hernandez’s spin as juvenile trickster was hardly original.

Unhappy ex-spouses have been known to pay off their divorce settlements with tons of pennies. Disgruntled traffic court transgressors occasionally make a show of paying fines with heaps of coins.

A few weeks ago, British soccer goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux paid his 50-pound fine for coming late to practice with 5,000 pennies. The trick got Vigouroux relegated from his Swindon club to Anfield. Too bad we can’t relegate the mayor of Hialeah to a municipal backwater where no one would notice his schoolboy antics.

In 2012, a Houston man upset by his traffic fine delivered 137 dollar bills, each folded into an origami pig, to the court clerk in Dunkin’ Donuts boxes. That, at least, showed a smidgen of originality.

Hernandez only embraced a tired cliché on Nov. 5, when he delivered 28 buckets of coins filled with $4,000 in pennies and nickels to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. It was a show of contempt, of course, with an emphasis on show. Contempt for the commission. Contempt for county voters who approved Florida’s first ethics commission in 1996. (Wouldn’t it be grand irony if Hialeah taxpayers expressed contempt for their mayor’s lack of ethics by settling accounts with City Hall in pennies?)

Of course, the mayor had made sure TV crews were already in place when his delivery truck rolled up. Hernandez, Florida’s most famous loan shark, figured the hackneyed stunt would distract from the ethics commission’s July ruling that he had “knowingly” lied to the public.

Back in 2011, Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver and Laura Isensee reported that the mayor’s name had surfaced during the federal investigation of Ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez. Perez had told federal prosecutors that he had borrowed seed money for his $40 million swindle from both Hernandez and former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina. (Loan sharking seems to be a Hialeah mayoral prerequisite.)

Except Hernandez had forgotten to report his ghost banking activities on his financial disclosure forms. The mayor called a press conference to deny it all. He said unkind things about the Herald (also not very original).

But when Robaina was tried last year on tax evasion charges, Hernandez testified for the prosecution, offering a startlingly different version of his shadowy deal with Perez. Under oath, he admitted that he had collected 3 percent interest payments a month — an exorbitant and illegal 36 percent a year — on a $180,000 loan to the Ponzi artist.

The ethics commission noticed the discrepancy between his trial testimony and his public assertions. And with his sworn financial disclosures. But when the commission held a hearing in July, Hernandez didn’t bother to show. Instead he wrote a disdainful letter calling the ethics commission “a Roman circus.”

Of course, skipping the hearing also allowed Hernandez to escape more discomfiting questions about his loan business. Maybe he hoped the thousands of coins would distract the public from the real issues.

Last week, the commission filed suit in county court, charging that the mayor’s coin stunt was an “act of contempt.”

But I bet Hernandez settles without a trial. Best that the mayor avoids forums involving more sworn testimony.

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