Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Sorry, mayor, you’ve got the wrong circus

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez EL Nuevo Herald

Roman circus?

Carlos Hernandez has a penchant for perplexing and occasionally mendacious remarks. Last week, for instance, the Hialeah mayor compared the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust to a Roman circus.

“The actions of the ethics commission resemble a Roman circus,” the mayor said in a statement issued by his office. It was a peculiar accusation. The Roman circus, known as the Circus Maximus, was a venue generally devoted to horses running around in a very large oval circuit with chariots in tow. Perhaps Hernandez was confused, thinking that he was being pursued by the racing commission.

Carlos had the wrong run-around. His problem has more to do with his racing mouth, which seems to outpace the truth. It was the mayor’s lies that caught the attention of the ethics commission.

The charges against Hernandez have to do with two contradictory statements concerning his surreptitious loan operation. Both could not have been true.

The ethics commission has fastened on an angry press conference the mayor staged on Oct. 13, 2011. Hernandez was seething over a story in the Miami Herald the previous day.

Herald reporters Jay Weaver and Laura Isensee had noticed 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 Ponzi swindle from both Hernandez and former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina.

What can I say? Hialeah voters just love their loan sharks.

Ghost banker Hernandez, however, failed to list the loans or his interest income on financial disclosure forms filed with the county and Hialeah. Nor did he remember the interest payments Perez claimed he paid Hernandez from 2007 to 2009.

At the press conference, Hernandez angrily denied that he had ever collected interest income from his former friend the Ponzi crook. “I will not allow my integrity to be questioned by the Miami Herald as they attempt to once again do, as they did to former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina.”

But when Robaina and his wife Raiza went on trial last year on tax evasion charges, Hernandez testified for the prosecution, offering a startling different version of his shadow banking deal with Perez. Under oath, he meekly 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 payments amounted to $126,000.

The ethics commission noticed that the Hernandez trial testimony didn’t jibe with his public remarks at the 2011 press conference. Or with the sworn income statements submitted in his financial disclosure forms. Last week, the commission charged that he “knowingly furnished false information on a public matter.” The county charter states, "No county or municipal official ... shall knowingly furnish false information on any public matter, nor knowingly omit significant facts when giving requested information to members of the public.”

The mayor was not pleased. But rather than explain his contradictory statements, Hernandez disparaged the ethics commission as no more than a “political organization.” He stated, “They are not prosecutors and the commission is not a law enforcement agency. The decision made today does not surprise me, since I have publicly confronted this commission to raise awareness and bring light to the political interests that dominate the organization.”

In other words, the political hacks running the commission were just out to get a brave Hialeah politician (and occasional loan shark) who had previously challenged its scruples. Except I’ve checked our archives and could find no indication that Hernandez had complained about the work of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust before it came nipping at his heels. In fact, he seemed pleased with the commission back in 2013, when it cleared the Hialeah City Commission after Hernandez’s political enemy, former Mayor Julio Martínez, filed a Sunshine Law complaint.

Besides, the ethics commission has done Hernandez a fine favor, deciding that of the two conflicting explanations about his private loan deal, the one he had offered up back 2011 must have been the misrepresentation.

Because if he was telling the truth in 2011, that meant Hernandez was lying in 2014 when he testified under oath in federal court.

Lying to a federal court would have been perjury, with serious consequences. If the ethics commission decides instead that he was lying at a press conference and on his financial disclosure forms, he faces nothing more than a public reprimand and $1,500 in fines.

If Mayor Hernandez needs a little cash to pay his fine, maybe ex-Mayor Robaina can lend him the money. Though I’ve heard that interest rates in Hialeah can be prohibitive.

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