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Tuesday August 7, 2012

How South Beach really runs: code enforcement extortion crackdown

Jose L. Alberto Here’s a partial peek behind the curtain, curtesy of the FBI. Since it’s a press release, I’m going to cut ‘n’ paste just like I wrote it (just like the Herald would), and I’m going to delete out the boring bits:

Jose L. Alberto, the former lead code compliance officer for the city of Miami Beach, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right for his participation in a scheme to extort cash payments from a South Beach nightclub. Alberto faces up to 20 years in prison.

Alberto was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right and 22 counts of extortion under color of official right and induced by the wrongful use of actual and threatened fear of economic loss. Alberto was the second most senior official at the Miami Beach Code Compliance Division and oversaw and managed all the Miami Beach code compliance officers.

Alberto admitted that in June 2011, he solicited a cash pay-off from a Miami Beach nightclub owner in exchange for not enforcing a large fine for a code violation.

The nightclub owner reported the alleged extortion to the FBI, which commenced an undercover investigation. During the undercover investigation, Alberto accepted 22 separate cash pay-offs for a total of $16,600 from either the nightclub owner or an undercover FBI agent posing as the manager of the nightclub. These cash pay-offs were made in exchange for Alberto’s protection from potential code violations and to permit the nightclub to continue operating.

In court, Alberto also admitted that while the pay-offs were being made, he introduced various other code enforcement officers to the undercover FBI agent to help protect the nightclub. These code enforcement officers, like Alberto, also received cash pay-offs in exchange for their protection of the nightclub. Two of those officers, Vicente Santiesteban and Orlando Gonzalez, have pled guilty to conspiring with Alberto to extort cash from the Miami Beach nightclub and are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months.

So there you have it — a pretty substantial criminal conspiracy run from inside Miami Beach city hall gets shut down. We’re left to speculate what this really means. Is it that the system is working? We’ve all heard about how the Beach is run by the mob, right? Is it that these guys didn’t have the permission of the official extortion ring (which surely would involve the Miami Beach Police Department, after all) to be doing this?

The $16,000 figure is interesting. Maybe Alberto hit up the nightclub as an experiment, and the FBI steered the direction towards high pay-offs to make a better case (in other words, he was only extorting this or a couple of other nightclubs). Or Alberto was determining the amount of the payoffs, which would suggest he had his own fee structure and that he has had been doing this a long time? If he made $16,000 from one club between June 2011 and March 2012, imagine how much you could rake in on the beach with a little ambition. It’s not like the money is that much to the club in exchange for getting to ignore the code with impunity.

I hope somebody follows this a little, because I’d love to hear what club this was, just to see what happens to them going forward. Not willing to play the game? I doubt that’d very good for business.

Photo from Flickr, via Random Pixels, where there was good reporting on this back in April, after the arrests were made.


Friday June 29, 2012

Not making any sense out of the causeway cannibal's autopsy report

Rudy Eugene So, Obamacare, right guys? But also the face cannibal. Maybe especially the face cannibal, since right now the Obamacare thing is getting lots and lots and lots of attention. (Although maybe not one particular aspect, which being how fucked up it is that Anthony Kennedy voted against it.) So the autopsy report of Rudy Eugene, the causeway cannibal, was released. The Miami Dade Medical Examiner brought in an outside toxicology lab to assist, and together they found nothing but pot in his system. The Google is not strong with me this morning, and I’ve not found the report, or even a press release, on the medical examiner’s web site. But here is the quote being repeated on numerous news sites:

The laboratory has tested for but not detected any other street drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs, or any adulterants found in street drugs. This includes cocaine, LSD, amphetamines (Ecstasy, Meth and others), phencyclidine (PCP or Angel Dust), heroin, oxycodone, Xanax, synthetic marijuana (Spice), and many other similar compounds … within the limits of current technology by both laboratories.

Now let’s recall the timeline leading up to this incident. Rudy lives in Broward. He wakes up at 5:30 am during Urban Beach Weekend and heads to South Beach with his bible. He spends the morning there and when he tries to leave in the early afternoon he finds his car broken down. Next we have him walking back toward the mainland along the MacArthur Causeway, shedding his clothes, swinging from lamp posts, and tearing pages out of his bible. At around 2 pm he crosses the bridge to the mainland and finds a homeless guy, attacks him, strips off his clothes, and bites off pieces of his face in a prolonged attack. Eventually a police officer arrives at the scene and orders Rudy to stand down, and when he doesn’t the officer shoots and kills him.

There was all sorts of speculation that Rudy had done drugs on the beach that caused him to go psychotic, and an initial coroner’s report indicated that there were undigested pills found in his stomach. (The coroner’s report released this week doesn’t appear to mention this, which is extremely odd. If the initial report was wrong, why not say so to clear it up?) But here’s the thing: the bible. It was there at the end, and it was with him when he left the house in the morning. That’s the key to the whole thing, because it suggests that the attack wasn’t caused by something that happened on South Beach, but something that happened prior to everything else in this story.

He shed his car, his clothes, and even his gold teeth. Everything except for his bible. It was next to him when they hauled away his shot-up body. He tore pages from it ceremonially as he walked across the causeway. (Have you walked the MacArthur Causeway? I’ve walked it. I’ve biked it. I drove across it twice a day for years. It is maybe the most beautiful stretch of road. Walking it is not untranscendental.) Rudy was clearly having a psychotic/religious experience. (Or as Eowyn puts it, “demonic posession.”) Check out Brief Psychotic Disorder. (“Grossly disorganized” behavior? Check.) The guy lost his mind, quite possibly due to brain damage or a brain tumor, which are headline causes of Psychosis. I’m assuming the coroner would have mentioned a tumor if they’d found it, so it’s something that does not show up in this kind of autopsy.


Sunday May 28, 2006

washington ave

Can we chill with all the self-congratulations? All you guys did was pave the streets. (Yes, there’s a hummer limo in my picture. Sorry.)