The city of Opa-locka is an unmitigated mess — and has been for ages.
▪ Mayor Myra Taylor and her husband, already convicted of tax fraud, are now key suspects in a kickback scheme to get $150,000 from a contractor.
▪ A federal grand jury is taking a deep dive into allegations of from-the-top-down bribery payoffs and shakedowns. Acting City Manager David Chiverton, Mayor Taylor, Commissioner Luis Santiago and City Hall lobbyist Dante Starks are among the targets.
▪ The FBI, investigating the city for several years, is bolstering its case with recordings of city officials taking — expecting! — payments from people seeking relatively inexpensive licenses to conduct business in the city.
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The victims, of course, are the residents of the poor city, which off and on for decades has been under scrutiny from the state, under suspicion from prosecutors and under siege from some of the very leaders expected to act in their constituents’ best interest.
Victimized, too, are business owners who see opportunity in Opa-locka — and who would be paying taxes, bringing in needed revenue, filling vacant storefronts and warehouses and generally contributing to the city’s economic vibrancy.
However, these same people, unfortunately, are often greed’s enablers. This is not to harshly blame the victims. Rather it is an attempt to point out the role citizens play in ensuring a government that works for them, instead of allowing officials to play them for fools or human ATMs.
Indeed, we applaud Frank Zambrana and other businessmen who went to the FBI. In his case, Mr. Zambrana says he paid and paid and paid crooked pols who strung him along, promising him a business license — which cost only $150 — but never coming through until about $30,000 had been handed over.
At some point Mr. Zambrana said enough is enough, and went to the feds, who outfitted him with a secret video camera. As reported by Herald writers Michael Sallah and Jay Weaver, City Commissioner Luis Santiago allegedly pocketed thousands of dollars.
Mr. Zambrana also said that he was shaken down for $3,000 by the mayor’s son, the appropriately named Corleon Taylor. None of the accused commented on the allegations to the Herald.
But it’s a shame these victims delayed going to the authorities, failing to realize that they would never pay their way out of their situation, and enabling the alleged illegalities to continue.
And in repeatedly reelecting such compromised officials, city voters are doing themselves and their city a gross disservice. Mayor Taylor has been re-installed in office in spite of her inability to keep her personal finances above board, while at the same time the city’s finances were tanking. Residents gave Commissioner Terence Pinder a second bite at the apple, reelecting him after, in 2014, he — and Mr. Starks, the lobbyist — pleaded no contest to four counts of conflict of interest, making charges of racketeering and unlawful compensation go away.
While federal authorities are working to break this cycle of greed and ineptitude, residents and business owners, too, must step up and do the same.