A South Florida arts promoter accused of stealing from Miami’s Little Haiti Cultural Complex is demanding “justice” after a three-year investigation ended without charges and a city board that handles labor grievances determined she was wrongly fired.
In a move that outraged Miami’s Haitian community and sparked racial tensions, Sandy Dorsainvil was abruptly removed as the director of the city’s cultural center in 2016 when the head of Miami’s real estate department began to suspect she was embezzling public money. Dorsainvil’s boss also referred her to the state attorney’s public corruption unit, and the city audited the center.
But in November, prosecutors quietly closed their case into allegations of grand theft, money laundering and official misconduct, determining that there was no evidence that Dorsainvil had stolen or diverted any money from the center. And late last month, the city’s Civil Service Board sided unanimously with Dorsainvil in her appeal of her termination, raising the possibility of reinstatement or a financial settlement.
“She wants justice and restoration. Complete restoration of her dignity, which was assaulted maliciously,” said her attorney, Charles Mays. “It was shameful. It was scary.”
Dorsainvil’s firing was a high-profile affair due to her support in Miami’s tight-knit arts and Haitian communities. Her ouster from her role overseeing the prominent, multimillion-dollar community venue caused an uproar and led to a near mutiny at Miami City Hall, where demands for Dorsainvil’s reinstatement nearly led to the firing of the city’s top administrator.
It’s not clear yet how the city’s government will react to the nonbinding ruling by its Civil Service Board. The board has not yet sent its findings in writing to City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, who has the final say.
City spokeswoman Stephanie Severino said in a statement that “the City of Miami Administration is reviewing the return of Ms. Dorsainvil as a City employee.” Daniel Rotenberg, the city’s head of real estate, referred a reporter to Severino.
When Dorsainvil was fired with little public explanation by a previous city manager, her bosses at the city privately suspected that she had been profiting off her position at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. Rotenberg was concerned about a “significant loss in revenue” and grants that were apparently going to the center without his knowledge.
A now-closed public corruption investigation found evidence that suggested Dorsainvil was promoting events at the center through her own business without permission. Investigators also subpoenaed bank records and found about $13,000 in deposits to the company — Maximillian Consultants — during the three months from October 2015 to January 2016, including one check from an organization that rented the center.
Also through subpoenas, investigators documented $93,000 in cash deposits into a bank account shared by Dorsainvil and her mother during her three years as the complex’s director.
But employees and vendors said they knew nothing about the source of the cash, and Dorsainvil’s emails shed no light on the deposits. Dorsainvil never granted an interview with investigators, so they were unable to pose questions to her about the money or determine where it came from.
Dorsainvil’s attorney said “there’s absolutely no connection” between the cash deposits and the accusations, but otherwise declined to discuss the bank records. He said Dorsainvil did keep her consulting company active in terms of corporate paperwork, but was adamant that she was not running a for-profit venture on the side.
“The lady was working 60 to 70 hours a week for the city and she had a small child. When was she going to find time for that?” said Mays, adding that auditors had already determined that there was no evidence of theft before Dorsainvil was fired.
Auditors and investigators also found that the center’s poor financial performance under Dorsainvil was due to the frequent waiver of rental fees for community-based nonprofits. And after nearly three years of efforts, investigators never did find any evidence that Dorsainvil had taken any money that should have gone to the taxpayers.
“No evidence was uncovered during the investigation that showed Dorsainvil would embezzle or convert facility rental fees that belonged to the city for her own personal use,” states a November memo by former prosecutor Trent Reichling explaining his decision not to file charges.
Since her firing, Dorsainvil has worked in commercial leasing and has continued promoting arts through her Maximillian Consultants. Mays said she wants back pay and compensation for out-of-pocket healthcare costs for her family that would have been covered by her city benefits were she not fired.
Mays, though, couldn’t say whether Dorsainvil wants to return to work for a city that she believes trashed her reputation.
Miami Herald reporter Joey Flechas contributed to this report.