Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Democratic corruption in Miami

The Miami Herald has written an expose of fraud and corruption in the poor neighborhood known as Liberty City, and tangled up in the center of it is three-term Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek.

While Meek was seeking federal funds for a massive development project, the developer was diverting money for personal use and giving Meek's mom -- former Congresswoman Carrie Meek -- $40,000 and a car as payment for consulting services related to the project.

Some details to make you pull your hair out:

• After the county spent millions preparing one of its last open stretches of public land for development, the trust gave Stackhouse's company control over half of it for 75 years -- then allowed him to use the land as collateral for a $4.2 million private loan while paying just $1,500 a month in rent.

• A year later, the trust provided Stackhouse's company with a $3 million interest-free county loan despite the developer's financial record, which is marred by foreclosures, liens, and a bankruptcy totaling more than $20 million.

• Once he had access to the county's money, Stackhouse diverted more than $500,000 from the project by submitting more than 40 bills to the trust that had already been paid with the private loan, including construction expenses, architectural fees and property taxes.

In one case, he turned in the same $26,000 invoice three times -- collecting a total of $78,000 from the trust.

• Stackhouse pitched the project to local leaders by claiming multinational companies and world-class universities would lease thousands of square feet and employ hundreds of people.

But most of the tenants touted by Stackhouse told The Miami Herald they have no plans to lease space at the park. Two of the companies said they had no knowledge of the project at all.

• In fact, the only biotech firm committed to moving into the park is a Massachusetts company called MediVector, which Stackhouse said will serve as the anchor tenant, creating 150 biotech jobs while leasing thousands of square feet to test and manufacture drugs.

But MediVector is little more than a small consulting firm run by one of Stackhouse's longtime business partners from a 300-square-foot office in Cambridge.

It's clear the developer duped a lot of people, and county officials and both Meeks are claiming they are among the victims. Kendrick Meek, for example, says he had no idea his mom was being paid, and said she never lobbied him about the project.

That stretches credibility. But even if you believe them, then you're talking about extremely poor oversight and incredibly bad financial judgement by county officials, a failure by Meek to do even minimal due diligence, and a failure by his mom -- who should have known better -- to disclose an obvious conflict of interest.

Here's hoping this investigation gets more national attention. Meanwhile, Meek is a prospective candidate for the Hall of Shame.

(h/t: Debate Link)

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