The Miami Herald decided that part of our Airways Auto Tag Agency story was newsworthy, while they didn't cover the parts of the story that I would have liked them to, what they did cover was the incestuous relationship between the City of South Miami and the police chief's wife's tag agency. Take a look at look at the story here...
South Miami police bought services from police chief’s wife
By ANDREA TORRESThe Miami Herald
Orlando Martinez de Castro has been South Miami's police chief since 2010. He had been a chief before for a year in 2005.
South Miami police administrators broke city and state rules when they used the services of an auto tag agency owned by the police chief’s wife.
The city has paid Airways Auto Tag about $3,000 for services since 2003. Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro worked for the city from 1998 to 2006 and from 2010 to the present, and some of the purchases were during his tenure. City rules prohibit making any purchases from a relative of a city employee.
City Manager Hector Mirabile said Martinez de Castro knew nothing about the purchases at the time they were made, and when he found out, immediately told his staff to stop using his wife’s company.
Ileana Martinez de Castro is the owner of Airways Auto Tag, 3636 NW 36th St., near Hialeah. She said the chief hasn’t been involved in her business, and that her only intention was to “help the police officers expedite things quickly.” She regrets doing the transactions.
“The $220 headache is just not worth it,” Martinez de Castro said referring to the fees the agency charged for some of the services rendered on 2011.
The chief issued the order after the transactions were mentioned in The Straw Buyer blog. Businessman Mazyer “Mike” Hatami, who lives in Coral Gables, has been writing the blog in his spare time since 2008. He said he was working on another story when he stumbled upon public records that linked the agency, 3636 NW 36th St., to the police chief.
“Why not go directly to the state? Or go to one of the dozen tag agencies in the vicinity? I found it highly suspicious,” said Hatami.
Private tag agencies in Miami-Dade are subject to a set fee schedule. They are responsible for sending monies collected to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. They are also authorized to charge a convenience fee and a transaction fee from customers.
South Miami Maj. Ana Baixauli has been overseeing the department’s administrative bureau since 2010. She said the chief never asked her to steer business to the agency.
“They saved us time. If our officers would have gone somewhere else they would have had to sit and wait for two to three hours,” said Baixauli. “The prices are the same wherever you go. It’s all about saving the city time and money.”
While the offices of tax collectors are open only during normal business hours, private agencies are open after 5 p.m. and sometimes on Saturday.
Baixauli signed off on the checks issued to Airways Auto Tag — including one dated Feb. 28, 2011, for $525. The check was voided and later reissued in September. Baixauli signed off on the use of the state criminal forfeiture funds for the transaction. The trust fund is established to keep revenue from confiscated property. Florida statutes require the City Commission’s approval for the funds to be expended. That did not happen.
“It was an unintentional error,” said Baixauli. “I have checked my records and that was the only error I found. We work hard to avoid these types of mistakes, but in the end we are only human.”
To correct the mistake, Mirabile had the funds reimbursed to the forfeiture account on Friday.
Vice Mayor Josh Liebman and Commissioner Valerie Newman said that in this case enforcing the city ordinance is unnecessary.
"Orlando is a great police chief. He has turned our city around,” said Newman. “No one should be questioning his integrity."
The chief began his career as a police officer with the city of Miami in 1970. He joined South Miami in March 2, 1998. The relationship with Airways Auto Tag began in 2003, two years after the chief’s wife bought the company.
After serving as interim chief, Martinez de Castro was named chief in 2005. Mirabile, a former Miami police major, brought Martinez de Castro back to South Miami on October, 20, 2010. The City Commission ratified his five-year contract.
Hatami said he spoke to the Miami-Dade County ethics commission director, Joseph Centorino, about the violation of the ordinance, but did not file a formal complaint. Centorino declined to comment.
Liebman said that supporting city staff is important for stability.
“I don’t think the procedural details merit a lot of attention. The focus needs to be on the chief’s qualifications and job performance,” said Liebman. “He is a great asset to this community.”
Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this story.
Take a moment to go through all the comments from that story, we'll discuss the story at length tomorrow.