Saturday, October 29, 2011

Su Alcaldito accuses me of theft

As if his alcalditowear has something more than a nostalgic and comic value, Hialeah's alcaldito Carlos Hernandez went bonkers Saturday -- the last day of early voting at the JFK library -- when he saw me walking by with one of his campaign t-shirts.

"She stole my shirt. Call the police," he told his assistant, Arnie Alonso, who had offered (probably as a joke) to give me a shirt. But being the political junkie I am, and a collector of political memorabilia, I said I absolutely wanted a shirt. "Will you wear it," Alonso asked. "Nah. But I want it for my collection. I have a [Miami-Dade Mayor] Carlos Gimenez shirt and a shirt from Katie Edwards failed bid for state rep last year and a couple of others." I also collect signs, I told him, and would love to have one of su alcaldito's -- but with the mirrors on it (supposedly to ward off the evil eye).

Alonso, who has been a good sport during this week of early voting. Maybe he sees the writing on the wall like Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez did when she walked off for a private chat with former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, who is running to unseatsu alcaldito. But Alonso is in trouble anyway right now for giving me that t-shirt. Alcaldito had a cow.

"She stole my shirt," he told Alonso as he rushed over to get someone to confiscate it from me.

"I need that shirt back. Call the police and write a report," su alcaldito instructed Alonso.

"No, I gave it to her," Alonso said, because he doesn't lie, at least not all the time, like his boss.

"Why did you give it to her?"

"It's okay," Alonso said, trying to calm him down. "She can't do anything with your shirt. It's ok."

"I don't want her to have my shirt."

Really? Really? What is he? Six years old?

"I'm not going to do voodoo or anything with your shirt. I'm not santero like you," I told him, referring to the mirrors on his signs and the broom and recogedor in front of his camionsito, which is also a Santeria religion custom.

"No, that's Raul's people," su alcaldito said, in reference to photos posted by council candidate Tony Vega's supporters that infer that Barbara Hernandez, president of the employees union (which this week gave Martinez their endorsement), was providing former Mayor Raul Martinez some spiritual leverage the other day -- as if he needs it.

Gavelgirl & Garcia have private chat

Looks like Hialeah Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez has read the writing on the wall and is beginning to hedge her bets.

While she has been campaigning with su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez, she took a little walk through the parking lot Saturday at the JFK library, on the last day of early voting, and had a private chat with former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, who is running against Hernandez for the mayor's post.

Neither would say what they talked about, but it seemed very friendly and serious and cordial.

Gavelgirl said it was not about the campaign. Garcia said it was a personal matter. "Something that had happened a while ago between her and I," he told Ladra. "It's more of a personal issue than a political one. I've known her family for a long time.

Still, Ladra bets that Gavelgirl is making nice because she knows that su alcaldito is freefalling (like in a ball of flames). We know she would rather work with Garcia than with former Mayor Raul Martinez, who is also in the race and seen by many as the front runner.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gaverlgirl's best hits on PAC's ad

A political commercial that strings together a bunch of the most unfortunate moments in the life of Hialeah Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez is already on YouTube and will be seen on Spanish-language stations tonight and over the weekend.

But it's not her opponent, former Councilwoman Cindy Miel, who is behind the ad. Miel is too soft to try something like that. It's one of her slate mates. Guess which one. C'mon. Ladra bets most of you will get it on the first try. The ad and airtime is paid for by Hialeah Deserves Better, an aptly-named PAC which was registered with the county in August by former councilman and current sure-thing candidate Alex "The Professor" Morales.

The ad starts with the text "Tu conducta es un reflejo de quien eres," or "Your conduct is a reflection of who you are," before a collection of Gavelgirl's most abusive powerplay and insulting moments. She berates a city employee who speaks at a commission meeting about his concern on the privatization of a city park. "Have you called me? Have you called me? Sir, answer my question," she demands, finger in the air. She insults this blogger, calling Ladra ignorant and insinuating problems with my past employer, which are bogus (I left on very good terms). "Altaneria y griteria no es lo que Hialeah necesita," or "Haughtiness and shouting is not whta Hialeah needs," it says in the middle of the clips, in the last of which she is getting booed at a council meeting. "Hialeah deserves something better. Say no to Isis Garcia-Martinez," it ends.

See it at

Morales said he simply could not stand by while Gavelgirl (photographed here first at the IHOP incident, parts of which are used in the commercial, and also Friday at the JFK library for early voting) mistreats the public.

"I was embarassed by her behavior and it needs to stop," he told Ladra Friday, shortly after the ad went public on YouTube. Why would his PAC focus on someone outside his race? "It doesn't matter. Its about Hialeah. It's not about me or Cindy or her. Her behavior has become an embarssment to the city."

Ladra knows that Morales wants an easy primary so he can avoid a runoff and help his slate mates as a sitting councilman. But there won't be a second round for Miel, who is the only opponent against the incumbent council president. So he had to help her now.

That's what Ladra calls being part of a team. And that's why Morales will make a good councilman.

Herald nods are mostly nonsense

Ladra will always love the Miami Herald and be grateful for the incredible talent and drive there that has made her who she is today. But times have changed. And it's a good thing that the Miami Herald's editorial recommendations in elections are not worth their weight in the paper that prints it anymore.

Perhaps it's no wonder, either, after reading the batch of endorsements the editorial board -- or, rather, two people from the editorial board -- have made. Because these recommends make it very clear that the Herald is completely disconnected from the community and the contest where it pretends to promote candidates. While I may agree with the idea of breaking up the slates in theory, I won't advocate for that if it means backing the wrong wannabes. I mean Lourdes Lozano? Daisy Castellanos? Tony Vega? Tony "Phony" Vega? Really? Ladra has always respected Miriam Marquez and Juan Vazquez, the two editorial board members who screened most of the candidates (not all showed up) and likely made or drove the decision. But they must not be reading Political Cortadito or even their own newspaper and I bet they were throwing a dart at a wall of photos when they made these choices. Let's review the reasons.

Lozano, who has been nothing but negative in her campaign, is a two-faced opportunist who jumped into the race at the behest of su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez despite having bad-mouthed him and the Seguro Que Yes crew earlier this year. Lozano, a reliable rubber-stamper on the Hialeah Housing Authority commission and former DCF employee who is has herself spread rumors about her possible investigation for food stamp fraud, was apparently miffed that the council chose the relatively unknown but politically connected Pablito "Huh?" Hernandez to replace su alcaldito on the dais after the latter's promotion to the fourth floor through the resignation of his master/mentor former Mayor Julio Robaina. The Herald editoral board, who must have interviewed her by phone since she did not attend the screening, writes that she is not tied to any particular mayoral slate, but that only proves they are blinder than Stevie Wonder and maybe as disinterested as disconnected because it's not difficult to determine that she is squarely with Hernandez. They share campaign staff and campaign office. She is on his slate. And as if that weren't reason enough to stay away with a 20-foot pole, the Herald actually admits that Alex "The Professor" Morales, a former councilman and HHA Director (fired by Robaina and Lozano), is the best candidate in that group (and in any, Ladra would add). The dynamic duo over there simply chose to skip over him because of baseless allegations that he doesn't live in the city. The Professor's motives and zeal may be questionable, but the fact that he sleeps at an apartment on West 29th Street is not. Ladra has been there at least a dozen times. At different times of the day and night. He lives there. Neighbors confirm it, too. He may spend a night or two a month at his Miami Lakes home with his wife and kids while they look for a house in the west part of Hialeah where most of the electeds, past and present, live. But to deny him the rightful recommendation based on a possible residency issue that doesn't exist and is contrived by his political nemesis is really kind of dumb. And irresponsible.

Daring Daisy Castellanos pick is much less insulting. Because she is a nice lady with good intentions and a nice family and great friends who believe in her so much that they have spent the past few weeks volunteering in most of their spare time. Her husband is a little intense and I might not feel as comfortable with a recommendation for him, but despite his own delusions at times, Eddy Castellanos is not running for office. Ladra likes Daisy because she has guts and she is her own gal. She showed up at the campaign office openings for both ABC mayoral candidates, former State Sen. Rudy Garcia and former Mayor Raul Martinez. Yeah, she was looking for a slate -- and she may have found one, unofficially, with Garcia's camp, even if only through the process of elimination.  She never approached su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez because she is also mad that she was skipped over when they named Councilman Pablito Hernandez. She was waiting at the IHOP when su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and Council President Isis Garcia-Martinez and her opponent Hernandez showed up on a bus with public housing seniors because she knew it was a campaign event and she was going to take advantage of it. That's smart. And when the manager or waitress asked if her tab should be put on the city's bill, she said no and paid for it herself. That's ethical. She is the more elegant part of Hialeah, having lived in the city forever and worked in customer service at the city's water department for 20 years. Ladra loves the idea of a customer service person in politics. But (and I hope Daisy forgives me), she is ill prepared for the role of councilwoman next to Frank "Sinatra" Lago, the former chief of staff for Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño, who lost a run for the Florida house earlier this year to State Rep. Jose Oliva (R, District 110). While Ladra has issues with Lago (the company he has kept, mainly, which include such snakes as campaign operatives Sasha Tirador and Vanessa Brito and Florida Gov. Rick Scott), he has the skills set needed when the new council inherits the problems and financial fiascos that the current administration will leave behind. And Lago is learning. While he has already tackled issues like budget management and annexation in Sweetwater, he is a political baby. And, despite wanting to come off like a seasoned veteran, he is really a starry-eyed do-gooder waiting to come out after he absorbs everything he can. Sure, Ladra fully expects him to make this a short-term assignment before he aspires to some higher office, again. But so what? Let him cut his teeth in Hialeah.

The most obvious blunder in these recommendations is Tony "Phony" Vega. While the editorial board applauds his call for a forensic audit so the firefighters can get a new contract, they must have skipped the parts where he agreed with su alcaldito's decision to fire 105 of them while rubberstamping millions of dollars in no-bid contracts. Ladra just has to believe that her friends at the Herald did not know Vega had jumped into the Group 3 race (maybe the election) at the behest of Hernandez and in exchange for a fast-tracking of the permits for his gun range. They did not know that his emails to a firefighter are the key to an investigation by the Miami-Dade Police public corruption unit into possible bribery or official misconduct by su alcaldito. Vega, who owns a gun shop cited for building an illegal gun range lst year, told a firefighter in July that Hernandez had offered to help him. "Yo Bud. I met with the Hernandez camp. They are gasping for support and offering sweet deals," Vega wrote to Eric Johnson, an 10-year veteran of the department and vice president of the firefighters union. "My range is getting fast tracked as a result." Lo and behold, after being held up for more than a year and having to demolish the illegal gun range he was cited for, Vega now has his permits (more on that later). Of course, Vega denies having written the emails. Just like he denies writing a post by Tony at MiamiGunRange on the Florida Shooter's Network forum about Hialeah closing down his shop where he urges readers to attend the hearing where they would do that. In fact, Ladra almost nicknamed him "Wasn't Me" because he continues to deny, deny, deny. In that comment, Tony of MiamiGunRange writes, "Folks it's a really bad empty feeling when your elected officials turn their noses at you. I have spent the last 2 days at city hall and the reception has been very mild. Luckily I made a few donations during election season and those guys were more receptive." Did the Herald editorial board google him at all? Because in the same forum thread, he later said "I plan on moving a mile or two up and be free of the political septic pool we call Hialeah." Maybe his residency should be questioned. Ladra supports former cop and HHA employee Danny Bolaños, but a vote for Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz (both pictured above) is still better than a vote for Vega, despite her defense of Robaina.

The nod for former Mayor Julio Martinez also rubs me wrong, but it's not ridiculous. Martinez may very well be the best candidate because of his experience. There's not much time for anyone with a learning curve. Ladra likes Julio Martinez just fine. He's genuinely smart, funny and capable. But I am not so sure he is genuine. Ladra doesn't trust him. He's been known to stab backs and the campaign finance reports to closely reflect those of su alcaldito and Robaina before him. Ladra likes Ramiro Sicre, the longtime city activist and planning board member who brings utility experience and some good ideas. But I'm still on the fence with that one. The only council recommendation I totally agree with, really, is the recommendation of former Councilwoman Cindy Miel over Gavelgirl. Honey over vinegar, as my favorite lickerpoet might say. If only because I believe Miel was robbed of an election once before by Garcia-Martinez, who has become an echo of the Robaina regime and acts like she owns Hialeah.

Contrary to popular belief, Ladra is still on the fence on the mayoral race. Yeah, I know everybody thinks I am with Martinez. But that's only because they have  not seen us interact. I have more rapport with Martinez, that's obvious. Almost anybody does because he's a ham. An incredible wealth of historicaly knowledge comes with that ham. But he is a funny, bright, challenging ham nonetheless. And I can be critical and my opinion is sought. Still, I can't seem to write Garcia off once and for all, despite his denial of his PAC, because I like some of his ideas and his overall image and presence and because so many people I respect are behind him. But, Martinez is more fun, more open and might be more capable of finding all the buried bones or holes Robaina left and that Hernandez is trying desperately to keep covered. Still, like I said, I'm waiting on this one. It's not an easy choice.

But if the Herald's endorsements are ever going to be important again, if they are ever going to be taken seriously again, they are going to have to pick more winners.

Su Hialeah Alcaldito's changing hair

The campaign must be taking a toll on su Alcaldito Carlos Hernandez. While he has been perfectly coifed lately, and is known to use Grecian Formula or L'oreal or some such product to color his hair, Hernandez had some very evident gray roots showing Thursday as he trolled, er, I mean strolled around the parking lot at the JFK libary in Hialeah where early voters have cast more than 2,500 votes.

But by the time he made it to Oscar Haza's A Mano Limpia show on MegaTV, he had apparently -- and messily -- touched up. And, for your pleasure dear readers, Ladra brings you the before and after photos. This is before, with the white shirt and the gray hairline. The after photos have him in a suit with a blue shirt and yellow tie.

Could it be that Hernandez -- who likes to show off his bulging biceps with tight muscle shirts and unnecessary flexing when he hands out his campaign card -- is a little vain and self-conscious?

Ladra mentioned the gray showing at the JFK library, but I was just trying to break the ice. I mean, if Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez can make nice and be civil to me, you would think that the man running for mayor would be, well, less like a 5th grader at the school yard. I guess Gavelgirl is the bigger man of the two. "Get away from me," is all he ever says. To me. He talks big when he talks about me to other people. At the Oscar Haza A Mano Limpia show where the three mayoral candidates (George Castro doesn't couldn't) debated (more on that later), he first tried to have me thrown out of the studio, where I was invited by other journalists to watch the debate live and in person with other journalists (they refused) and then, during a break in the live TV for commercials, quipped to former Mayor Raul Martinez, the front runner in the race who makes a full head of gray look cool, that I was his paid staffer. Martinez shrugs because he knows he doesn't pay me -- and couldn't possibly afford the value I bring to this campaign for both him and former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, the other mayoral candidate -- and so does su alcaldito, he just has nothing else to say.

Instead, Hernandez should have used the break to ask Martinez who does his hair. But maybe it's Felipito's mom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

ABs reach record high in Hialeah

The voting in the Hialeah elections has reached record levels already -- five days before Election Day. But if you think the big push over the top is happening in early voting at the JFK library, think again. It's by mail -- fueled by absentee ballots.

While there have been 2,232 ballots cast at the library since early voting started Saturday, more than twice that many AB votes, for a total of 4,517, have been delivered to the elections department since Monday alone. That is about 30 percent of the total 12,354 ABs that have been returned already to the Miami-Dade elections department as of Wednesday. This election is poised to beat the 12,657 absentee votes cast in the June 28 primary in which former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina lost to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. And there are more to come. More than 20,100 absentee ballots were requested, compared to around 15,000 for the June 28 race, from Hialeah voters. That means the AB machines for the campaigns are in full force (739 ABs have been requested in this week alone).

People close to the campaign for former Mayor Raul Martinez say they believe that about 2,000 of the ABs requested are from their supporters. People close to the campaign for former State Sen. Rudy Garcia say that about 1,500 AB requests are from their supporters. Ladra is pretty sure both are giving me low figures. So let's say Martinez has 3,000 and Garcia has 2,500. That still amounts to less than half. And while it is unknown how many of those remaining would belong to su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez, his AB machine is operated by AB queen Sasha Tirador, whose crown is being exposed for the cheap Zirconia-studded Halloween prop that it has become.

So, why are the candidates hanging around the library on West 49th Street all day every day? Do they think it will have a real impact. Even if 600 people vote today, Friday and Saturday (the least day of EV), that will be a total of 4,030 votes at the library. What kind of impact can that have on an estimated low-ball of 13,000 to 14,000 ABs cast by mail?

Garcia, in particular, has put a lot of attention (read: money) into the early voting campaign. On day one, when EV opened on Saturday, Garcia had two chartered buses to bring and take back voters and a plane with a trailing message ("I heart Hialeah") overhead at noon. On Sunday, there was a pachanga at a lawyer's home across the street with food and music (which was turned down after police arrived because of a complaint). This week, Garcia unveiled a "Political Cafecito By Rudy" banner on his camp tent (in honor of some crazy blogger lady and her blog with a similar name) and on Thursday, his volunteers were joined by Miss Hialeah Michelle Aguirre, 18, who actually lives in Hialeah Gardens. Ladra is told there are more surprises in store from both Garcia and Martinez and Saturday -- the last day for early voting in this election -- promises to be a blow-out.

"That's me. Everyone knows my game is early voting," said Al Lorenzo, the top campaign advisor for Garcia, who admitted to being concerned about the AB count and possible fraud (more on that later).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Alcaldito is on anti-Vivian attack

A robocall urging Hialeahns to oust Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz -- because she had the audacity to vote "no" twice in the Seguro Que Yes crew -- was received by some voters Tuesday while the candidate and both her opponents were at the JFK library greeting early voters. But niether former cop and current Hialeah Housing Authority employee Danny Bolaños, who is friendly with the councilwoman and incapable of such hypocracy, nor Tony "Phony" Vega, who might be but isn't saavy enough for this move, are behind the call.

The robocall is paid for by Citizens for a Reality Check, a Hialeah-based PAC formed earlier this year and operated by Sasha Tirador, the campaign manager for su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and the other incumbents, minus one (Casals-Muñoz) plus one (former HHA commissioner Lourdes Lozano). Funded,m according to Florida public campaign records, mainly by the same contributors -- including maquinita permit holders and Herman Echevarria -- as su alcaldito's campaign, Reality Check is also the PAC that Tirador used to smear State Rep. Jose Oliva (R, District 110) as a Sandinista sympathizer when she worked for council candidate Frank "Sinatra" Lago in that race. Which leads Ladra to the natural question: Why are Tirador and Echeverria, allies of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and supporters of his failed bid for Miami-Dade mayor, backstabbing him now through his beloved sister-in-law notary public? He is obviously supporting her through a fundraiser and the first robocall he recorded (he has since recorded one for everyone, but Ladra bets its pulled from the air soon). Robaina must be fuming. Ladra would love to hear what he has to say about it.

"If you knew that Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz, in Group 3, had betrayed us voting in favor of the red light cameras and against the legalization of efficiencies, would you vote for her," the call begins. "There are definitely other options in Group 3. Say no to Councilwoman Casals-Muñoz the same way she has said no to us."
Casals-Muñoz knew of the robocall when Ladra asked her about it after Tuesday night's short and historic (last one for the Seguro Que Yes gang) meeting. But she may have been surprised to know it su alcaldito was behind it.

"I don't think I've said no to the citizens. What I said no to was to cancel a contract that we don't know what the cost of that cancellation is going to be," the councilwoman graciously answered evebn though she was caught unaware by Ladra in the hallway. "It's very important when we sign a contract in the city of Hialeah, that we make sure that contract stands and is valid. I don't think that until we know all the facts that we should take anything back. The red lights do save lives but rmore importantly right now, my concentration is not to have a precedent in Hialeah to have a contract and then cancel it because there was a change in the administration.The city stands here before and after any administraiton and that needs to bre the precedent we set."

The councilwoman let Ladra and cameraman Raul "El Toro" Torres interview her and she said she voted against the legalization of the efficiencies because the city had not studied the issue to know more about the possible effects and negative ramifications it could have on the homeowner's taxbill and benefits or traffic or the providing of services to the zone.

But she denied that the two votes against su alcaldito is what led him to cut the ties. "I don't think that there is a break," Casals-Muñoz said, referring to the relationship. "We can have a difference of opinion and I think that's very healthy."

Despite the signs -- literally, signs behind a Garcia volunteer's truck as he goes about town putting them up -- Casals-Muñoz said she is not on the former Senator's slate (although this might be just the thing to push her over that edge). And did Ladra say slate? Sorry, I mean unofficial-allies-by-process-of-elimination slate, because nobody there has a slate even though most Garcia supporters are telling people that they also support council candidates Daisy Castellanos and Fernando Alvarez, in addition to Casals-Muñoz. The photo here has the three of them and Garcia at the far left. And, on Tuesday, Hernandez campaign workers distributed Phony Vega literature and Vega said he and su alcaldito had decided to support each other (read: figured it was useless to keep denying the alliance).

"I have chosen to do this independently and let the people decide who they feel is best for that position," Casals-Muñoz said. "The citizens will decide who the next mayor is going to be and I am willing to work with any."

And here Ladra had hoped she would turn ABC, too.

Tony "Phony" & Alcaldito: Mates

We had been suspecting it for a while, ever since gunshop owner Tony "Phony" Vega changed groups in the Hialeah Council elections back in the middle of September. But on Tuesday, Ladra Vega and su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez came out of the political closet and showed their love for each other.

"We love Tony Vega," said Carlos Rodriguez, one of the paid campaign workers in a Hernandez for mayor t-shirt handing out Tony Vega for council literature and the alcaldito's slate card -- which is curiously missing a candidate in the Group 3 race. That contest pits Vega against incumbent Councilwoman Vivan Casals-Muñoz (who has been on the outs with Hernandez) and former cop and Hialeah Housing Authority employee (on a leave of absence) Danny Bolaños. Vega told Ladra back then that he moved out of the Group 1 race because it was crowded -- though he admitted that he did not feel confident enough to go against Alex "The Professor" Morales, who has been leading the polls since day one and might be the only one in a race of three or more candidates to win outright on Nov. 1. But we have always felt it was with su alcaldito's blessing -- or at his behest.

Neither Casals-Muñoz nor Bolaños gave it much weight. "This is part of democracy and they have a right to support whoever they want," Casals-Muñoz said of her colleagues, with whom she will have a final council meeting before the election today. Bolaños indicated he was not surprised. "They are both anti-firefighters, anti-union and anti-city employee."
Tuesday, Vega confirmed that he decided to give Hernandez his backing.

"I decided to support him today. We worked out our differences," Vega told Ladra over the telephone, because he had left the early voting site at JFK library already. "We have more things in common than separate us." Vega said he would make it public on Friday and asked Ladra to sit on the news. But Ladra is very bad at keeping a secret. And she doesn't want to anyway. Besides, she saw this alliance plain and clear despite all their disguises.

Early on, Tony Phony put his signs with su alcaldito's signs and also echoed his canned speech statements about the firefighters contract and the legalizing illegal efficiencies move. Then, Ladra got wind of an exchange of emails from July and August that Vega had written back and forth with Fire Union Vice President Eric Johnson in which he said Hernandez et al were "making sweet deals" and had offered to "fast track" his long-delayed permits for his gun range in exchange for... we are not sure what. His candidacy? The switch to Group 3? His support? What we do know is that Johnson took the email to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office and Ladra has since heard that they did forward it to the Miami-Dade Police public corruption unit for investigation.

Vega -- who now, curiously, has all his permits curiously in order and the green light to build a gun range at his shop on West 84th Street -- has said repeatedly that he did not write those emails and that someone must have hacked into his account or made up a new facebook account to write them on his behalf. Ladra doesn't believe him, not because that kind of thing can't happen, but because he has also denied posting a comment on a Florida shooter's online forum about Hialeah closing his shop down last year (which they did after they found he had built an illegal gun range without the proper permits).

So, basically, it makes sense for him and Hernandez to hook up. They are both liars. Bad liars, but liars nonetheless.

Su alcaldito would not answer Ladra's questions about the sudden publicizing of the Vega alliance. But Rodriguez, the paid political parking lot pusher, said Hernandez himself gave him the stack of flyers. "To distribute them," said Rodriguez, who said he did not live in Hialeah and was being paid to stand in the parking lot all day and "distribute" the Vega and Hernandez lit. "Tony Vega is supporting Carlos Hernandez and Carlos Hernandez is supporting Tony Vega."

Yeah, we know. Then why did Papito -- who won't give us his real name -- run over to me and Rodriguez as we chatted and ended the interview. "You can't talk to him," he told me. "Um, yes, I can. Why not?" He said that I should only speak to candidates. Someone please tell Papito that journalists in this country can speak to whoever they want in a public setting. Papito (photographed here with Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez earlier in the week) took Rodriguez away from me and forbade him to speak to me any further, even though I told the poor intimidated guy that he wasn't in Cuba anymore and not to let himself be silenced. Papito also called him a volunteer and said he was not being paid, but we all know that's a lie, too.

Maybe Papito, whatever his real name is, will be running for office next.

Ponzi jeweler's mom votes Raul & Co

Hialeah hairdresser Aida Perez, whose introduction is always followed by "she's Felipito's mom," doesn't live in the City of Progress. So she can't vote there. But she drove her sister to early voting at the John F. Kennedy library Tuesday and got to spend a little time with former Mayor Raul Martinez and some of his Back to the Future slate (who her sister apparently bubbled for).

Perez, who also drove friends to the early voting site over the weekend, is not like any other voter's sister. She is mother to Luis Felipe Perez, the Hialeah jeweler and convicted ponzi schemer whose ties to former Mayor Julio Robaina and alcaldito Carlos Hernandez have opened a can of shadow banking worms for federal authorities to fish with. And she knew her presence -- a week after his loans to Felipito were made public in The Miami Herald -- was making Hernandez sweat.

So did Martinez and former Mayor Julio "The Replacement" Martinez and former cop and council candidate Danny Bolaños and Fire Union Vice President Eric Johnson, who enjoyed it thoroughly. So did Ladra, in all honesty. Meeting Aida Perez, having her be so open with me and forthcoming, getting her phone number and photos has been the highlight of the early voting Day 4 so far. I must say it even surpassed the "Political Cafecito" stand that former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, also running for mayor, had set up in my honor. (See, alcaldito? He doesn't think I'm working for the other side. You could embrace me, too.)

"El que metio la pata no se llama ni Felipito ni el joyero. Se llama Roberto Blanco," Perez said about the other man implicated in the shadow banking business with Robaina and Hernandez (and to Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz, who also loaned money and notarized many of the transactions). "The one who stuck his foot in his mouth is not named Felipito nor the jewelery. His name is Roberto Blanco."

Perez said her son was doing well, both physically and mentally, because his conscience was clear. "He says he rests well. His soul is clean. He feels fine and can look himself in the mirror," Aida Perez said. "He didn't hurt anyone. He didn't kill anyone. He didn't cheat anyone. He didn't fool anyone. The one who does all that is, look over there," she added, signaling to where Hernandez was. "He simply made money for himself and for other poeple." Last December, Felipito Perez was sentenced to 10 years in prison for securities fraud in connection with a $40 million Ponzi scheme and (concurrently) five years in prison in connection with a $12 million bank fraud scheme. But he also seems to be cooperating with the authorities about su alcaldito's role in the shadow banking business, having provided the Miami Herald with copies of 37 checks written out to Hernandez and his company for $3,000 or $2,400 -- the exact amount of the interest that he was to be charged. Hernandez has flip-flopped on that also, telling journalists at first that all he got was interest and that he was not paid his principal and -- after realizing he was amitting to tax evasion -- switched it and said that he had only got paid part of his principal and no interest. Yeah, riiiiight.

Anyway, Aida Perez has no love for Hernandez. She did not say hi to him. And while he and part of his Seguro Que Yes gang -- Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez and Pablito "Huh?" Hernandez -- watched and whispered in a tight huddle, Perez laughed at the sight of their nervous peeping. Shortly after, su acaldito left with his security bodyguard, Glen "The Goon" Rice. (Could he have been headed to a public housing building in West Hialeah where lines for section 8 had grown super long? We hope nobody was promised housing for votes).

But the star of the day so far is Aida Perez, a funny, up-front and forthcoming lady. And Ladra really needs to have her hair done, so an appointment -- and more friendly chat -- is in the future.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gavelgirl makes nice with Ladra

Among the deferential, diplomatic decencies displayed during early voting liftoff over the weekend at the JFK library in Hialeah, was Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez making nice with Ladra. No, really.

First, she said "Good morning," as she walked by, totally taking me by surprise because she had been completely ignoring me -- just like el alcaldito Carlos Hernandez still does -- since the IHOP incident. Gotta admit, that kind of put Ladra into a lull. Later, she offered to pose for a photo with council candidate Julio Martinez or someone else and did agree to pose with some guy named "Papito" wearing a Hernandez t-shirt who Ladra wanted a photo of since he is the same guy who was with Jose Gonzalez, council vice president Luis Gonzalez's brother, when the brother assaulted Political Cortadito cameraman Raul Torres outside a TV station (more on that later). Then, after I suggested to a TV reporter that what she had said was incomplete and less than truthful about the new water connection fees and the anonymous donor for the IHOP party, she suggested I run for office.

Thanks, Gavelgirl, but no thanks.

She also thought it was kind of funny that I thought she had a gavel in her back pocket -- either that or a gun, since everybody in Hialeah seems to be carrying. But no, it was her keys. "That's a good sense of humor, though," she told me, proving she has some, too. Now, can you put in a good word for me with su alcaldito, since he listens to you?

But she still lies.

When asked what ever happened to that restraining order she was going to get against me, she said, very seriously, that they had decided against it. "We decided not to proceed because you have been behaving yourself," she said. Yeah, you could hear my pen screech to a halt on my notebook. Say what? Behaving myself? Really? When? Don't you mean you decided not to proceed because you couldn't proceed, because you had no real base for it?

"No," Gavelgirl said, entirely seriously. "There's a line you can't cross."

We can't help but wonder if she means that illegally drawn white line -- an attempt to curb someone's rights -- that appeared mysteriously at the JFK parking lot the morning that early voting began.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lines drawn, crossed at early voting

A thick, bright, white stripe line that appeared out of nowhere and meant nothing became the most exciting part of the first day of early voting in Hialeah Saturday.
When candidates and campaign volunteers arrived at the JFK library on West 49th Street, they found a freshly painted stripe boundary that seemed further from the polling place than the 100-foot requirement -- because it was -- and police placing barricades along the last parking aisle "for public safety." Hialeah Police Commander Oscar Amago told Ladra police were going to try to keep the three camps separated. "We're going to create areas so everyone has the equal amount of space and make sure nobody gets hit by a car," Amago said. "But, during the county mayoral campaign, there was a normal flow and people got to walk around freely -- behind their boundary -- and nobody got hit by a car," Ladra said. Long silence. Steely stare. "Well, I just want to make sure that nobody's rights are violated," I added. "Thank you for your concern," Amago said and walked away.
Police Chief Marc Overton tried to tell former Mayor Raul Martinez to call City Clerk David Concepcion about the matter when Martinez complained. But the boss would have none of it. "The city clerk doesn't know what he's doing. This is a matter of law," said Martinez, who had spoken to former Miami-Dade Election Supervisor Lester Sola earlier in the morning to establish that the 100-foot rule still applied. "The law hasn't changed," Martinez told Overton.

Soon after, a second line -- much closer, at the 100-foot mark -- was drawn. And, for the most part, it was respected. Su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez crossed it to walk a little old lady to the polls, but Ladra was later told that was his grandmother so that has to be okay. And former State Sen. Rudy Garcia -- who put on a big, intimidating show by bringing a busload and a half of voters from his campaign headquarters and flying a plane banner overhead at noon with his I heart Hialeah slogan and "I want to save Hialeah" -- helped some voters get off the bus but was told he couldn't do it there because it was within the 100-foot boundary. The driver had to move the vehicle a few feet.

The rest of the day was even more uneventful. In fact, the candidates -- and everybody showed up except for George "Who?" Castro -- were cordial and humorous with each other, even if sarcastic at that. Hernandez told Martinez he could call him "interim mayor" -- as Martinez, who was elected mayor eight separate times likes to remind the appointed alcaldito. "Until Nov. 16. Then you have to call me mayor," Hernandez said, wide smile on his face, chest bulging from his tight, orange muscle shirt. "In your dreams," Martinez said, and chuckled.

It was a very good day for him as a good number of voters gave him the thumbs up or came up to embrace him or rolled down their car window to tell him that he was their candidate. Martinez moved around the parking lot quite a bit while Garcia stayed on the platform on the east side of the library entrance and Hernandez paced on the east side of the parking lot and platform.
"I love this. You know? My back doesn't even hurt," said Martinez, who had back surgery last month and had complained after being forced to stand for more than two hours during the taping for a televised TV debate. "I can't stay away from this. Who cares about making money?" He seemed like a new man walking around and greeting voters and volunteers -- as well as other candidates -- fetching Raul Martinez-for-mayor caps for the kids who came by and generally holding court. There was certainly more fanfare around him than around Garcia -- and poor Hernandez was by himself most of the time unless he had his security guard Glen "The Goon" Rice next to him.

"Glen, come here," he would shout, feathers obviously ruffled whenver Rice would be seen talking to Ladra -- who he took several front and backside photographs of -- or Professor Alex Morales or one of Garcia's drivers. Su alcaldito doesn't like the blurring of the lines. But other candidates certainly did not mind crossing political lines to pass the day. Martinez joked with Garcia and Hernandez and greeted every candidate except Vega (more on that later). Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz -- who takes credit for the cordiality after setting the example at the business dinner earlier this month -- spent some time talking with both of the opponents in her race, Danny Bolaños and  Tony "Phony" Vega. Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez said good morning to everyone (including Ladra) and was seen whispering sweet nothings into former Police Chief Rolando Bolaños ear. She also chatted with his son Danny and former Mayor Julio Martinez. Hernandez greeted Garcia's biker dude baby brother Chris Garcia. Former Hialeah Housing Authority commissioner Lourdes Lozano, the alcaldito's pick against Morales, greeted and chatted with Lizzie Lago, wife of council candidate Frank Lago.
Maximo "Rambo" Iglesias, Lizzie's dad, almost had  some angry words for Casa Marin restaurant owner Diosdado Marin, because of Marin's statements on the radio about Lizzie's unsuccessful council run in 2007 (she beat Lozano, who came in fourth, not like Marin said) and Lago's unsuccessful state rep run earlier this year (he came in second, not third).

On Sunday, the police were called to the law office of Miriam Hernandez across the street from the library after the pachanga that the Garcia camp apparently got too loud. An officer told Ladra that there was a complaint against the noise and that they were there to enforce the county ordinance.

Campaign volunteers turned the music down.

A total of 386 peole voted on Saturday and 315 voted on Sunday. Early voting resumes from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week. More to come later.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Robaina returns in robocalls for notary

He's baaaaaaack. Again.

Hialeah voters got a blast from the past on the phone Saturday when former Mayor Julio Robaina -- a relative recluse after his ruinous run for county mayor -- reached out with a recorded robocall for his former sister-in-law Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz on  Saturday, the day that early voting started at the JFK library.

And only for Casals-Muñoz, official notary for the 1st Hialeah Bank of Julito (read: Robaina's shadow banking business). Further confirming the split between her and the other incumbents, Robaina's robocall didn't promote his other protoges, su acaldito Carlos Hernandez and Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez. Will there be more to come or will they stay jealous?

A very friendly Casals-Muñoz, who greeted everybody amicabally in the library parking lot-turned-campaign-central, said Robaina had told him he would do a robocall for her. "But I didn't know it would come out so soon," she said, and thanked Ladra for being the messenger (now ain't that a switch). While some people (read: candidate Danny Bolaños) may think it's a "tainted" recommendation, Robaina still had 75 percent of the votes in Hialeah in that June election, buoyed mostly by the absentee ballot machinery. Casals-Muñoz, who said she would pay for the robocall from her campaign account and not her Tallahassee-based PAC, may not have the benefit of that machinery in this race, but his seal of approval may still be a good sell. It can certainly help raise money. Robaina also had a fundraiser earlier this month for Casals-Muñoz and the other incumbents plus one (candidate and former Hialeah Housing Authority commissioner Lourdes Lozano). Casals-Muñoz raised $6,600 more in the last reporting period, which ended Oct. 11. She raised a total of $27,150 and has only spent about $2,800 of it so far.
While not "officially" on the slate with former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, another mayoral candidate, Casals-Muñoz -- who has tried to brush off a questionably $25,000 loan she made to Recaredo Gutierrez -- kept camp with his team of volunteers and hung out more with former Mayor Raul Martinez, who wants his old job back, and his Back to the Future crew than any incumbent. Does her cocky confidence mean she knows something we don't?

Are we going to hear robocall recommendations for Casals-Muñoz from her other supporters: State Sen. Rene Garcia (R, District 40) and State Reps. Eddy Gonzalez (R, District 102) and Jose Oliva (R, District 110)?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alcaldito, J Martinez share $ sources

While the Back to the Future crew, under the leadership of former Mayor Raul Martinez, have shunned funds from the maquinita industry, there is one slate mate who has jumped ship: former Mayor Julio Martinez, once a foe now a friend, has taken at least $1,500 from companies with maquinita permits who have also donated to the campaigns of the current and past administration.

But those are not the only contributions Julio "The Replacement" Martinez shares with el alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and former mayor Julio Robaina, who funded a $3.5 million+ bid for the county mayor's job that he lost at the 11th hour. There are contributions from Sergio Pino's companies as well and some of the same construction and management or real estate interests with bundled contributions: $2,000 in 10 $200 checks from Evelio Garcia and family and companies and $2,000 from developer Domingo Pando and his, for example. Benajamin Leon of Leon Medical Centers and his companies and relatives gave at least $1,500 in $500 maximum gifts. There is also $3,000 in six $500 contributions from firefighter locals across the county and their PACs, likely encouraged by the increasingly influential Hialeah fire union, which gave Julio Martinez their endorsement and collected funds for the other Back to the Future friends (but were unpleasantly surprised to hear of his monetary support base).

Julio Martinez's campaign reports are interesting reading. He has a $250 contribution from former Miami City Manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa and $1,000 from Alex "No Pagues Ese Ticket" Hanna. Most intriguing, however, is a $250 contribution from Re Gu Records, owned by Recaredo Gutierrez, who borrowed money at high interest from former Mayor Alex Penelas, and soon-to-be former alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz in a shadow banking industry that has been exposed by the media and a self-proclaimed music producer from Las Vegas (read: maquinitas). Gutierrez did not want to talk to Ladra about the loans -- which he is reportedly still making payments on, payments that may not be reported -- and was unhappy I called Wednesday morning. "Frankly, I don't have anything to say about any of this," said Gutierrez, who noted a $50,000 debt to el alcaldito when he claimed bankruptcy (which came out in the Miami Herald's shadow banking story before the mayoral primary). "I am a businessman with a low profile and I don't need to be involved in this. I am not a public person. And I would ask you not to call me again." (But there will be more later anyway.)

Julio Martinez told me, basically, the same thing he told the Miami Herald's editorial board: that maquinita money is as good as any other money."As long as they are legal, I am in favor," Martinez said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning, completely aware that the boss frowns upon the industry. "I don't want Hialeah people to get picked up on buses and taken to the Indians who don't give anything back to Hialeah. When they become illegal, I'll be against them."

As for Gutierrez, Martinez said he knew him only as a maquinita interest (told ya) and didn't know about the West Dade man's loans with Hernandez and Casals-Muñoz. "I didn't know they were in business." He seemed to put little weight on the fact that Gutierrez is also supporting Hernandez's campaign.

While surprised about the contributions from what would seem like tainted sources, the other Martinez shrugged off the seeming conflict of interest. "They know each other from before," he said about Gutierrez. "And Julio is wrong on the maquinitas, but I can't tell him not to accept checks."

Yes, you can. That's why you are the boss. Try it like this: "Hey, blockhead! Stop taking tainted money from the crooks who want to keep el alcaldito in power so they can keep the status quo. You don't need that extra baggage."

Because, Raul, you don't need that extra baggage.

Hialeah's AB machine whirs again

The numbers are simply staggering.

Ladra took a stroll down the Miami-Dade election department's website and the absentee ballot report as of Tuesday's totals show that a whopping 17,780 absentee ballots have been mailed in Hialeah. That's 20 percent of the 88,565 or so voters registered.

There are more than twice as many ABs already mailed out to Hialeah voters than to voters in Miami, where 7,680 absentee ballots were sent out among the 74,430 registered voters in the two contested seats, for 10 percent so far. Miami Beach has a barely respectable 3,862 ABs mailed out among it's roughly 43,000 registered voters (just under nine percent). Homestead gets no respect: 980 ABs have been mailed out so far to less than 5 percent of the 20,000 registered voters.

But that's not the end of the story because there could be thousands more ABs requested and mailed in the City of Retrogress,  which is famous for its history with AB voter fraud. Because while the number of absentee ballot requests taper off in the other three cities, it practically explodes exponentially in Hialeah. After the initial 16,093 were sent Oct. 8 to voters who are already on the county's AB list, the elections department has been sending boxes of  ballots to Hialeahns who have also requested them for this election -- 80 went out between Oct. 11 and 12, another 115 were sent on Oct. 13 and more than double, 262, went out on Oct. 14. After the weekend, another 425 ballots were mailed to Hialeah voters on Monday and 805 went out on Tuesday.

In comparison, 15 ABs were mailed to voters in Miami and seven to voters in Miami Beach Tuesday. The same day, 805 were mailed to voters in Hialeah.

How much you want to bet more than 2,000 additional absentee ballots are mailed out by the end of this week?

But Hialeah also has a higher rate of return, caballero. You get out of it what you put into it, right? No wonder it is the AB capital of the world. As of the close of day on Tuesday, there were 5,354 absentee ballots returned from Hialeah voters. Again, proportionally larger and more than twice as many as the 2,107 returned so far in the city of Miami elections, the 1,005 returned in Miami Beach and the 342 that came back to the elections department from Homestead.

These staggering, mushrooming numbers can only mean that the AB requests have been intentionally seeded in Hialeah -- and that the absentee ballot brokers are now in the harvest. Several voters have already reported having campaign workers or employees from the alcaldito's office at City Hall come by to collect their ballots. Two of the council candidates have told Ladra they were approached by a known broker (more on that later) and the Miami-Dade Police Department's public corruption unit is, yet again, investigating allegations of a well-oiled, fine-tuned absentee ballot machine run by AB Queen Sasha Tirador, who has sub-soldiers that work the assisted living facilities and public housing buildings for hundreds of questionable votes.

Let's hope something sticks this time -- before the next election finds more than 50 percent of voters casting their ballots by mail (read: risk having their votes stolen).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ack! The PAC attacks are back!

While everyone is watching the candidates and their campaigns, PACs have proliferated at an alarming rate as four cities known for raunchy races -- Hialeah, Homestead, Miami and Miami Beach -- get within the two week mark of Election Day.

We will get to the other cities later (really, we will... there is just too much PACing going on), but Ladra's favorite election grounds have to go first. Hialeah has been dry for too long and the City of Retrogress has at least seven PACs so far, split between the three mayoral candidates alone (and, yes, Ladra has written George "Who?" Castro off). The two ABC front running candidates, former Mayor Raul Martinez and former State Sen. Rudy Garcia (R, District 40) are apparently appeased for now with one PAC a piece, although the Dark Prince's PAC is outraising the Ghost's PAC by a 4 to 1 margin. The other five found so far are apparently going to bat for su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez, who has learned this divide and conquer mentality from master/mentor former Mayor Julio Robaina, with 11 or 12 PACs (who could keep count?) that spent more than $3.5 million on his failed bid for the county mayoral post (including millions in contributions from companies and their principals who are now doing business with the city through juicy no-bid contracts that are rubber-stamped by the dozens. In fact, several of the Hernandez PACs are hand-me-downs. One of those is (1) Citizens for Clarity, which had spent close to $130,000 on the Robaina campaign (including $92,000 for his absentee ballot broker Sasha Tirador, who is currently campaign manager for Hernandez and has been the only payee so far since July 1 for a total of $37,200 ($19,000 for consulting, nearly $10,000 for printing and another $8,000+ for tracking) by the Clarity PAC. (about $130,000 so far just from that one PAC so Tirador is having a very good year, despite her unfortunate TV appearances). That PAC reported collecting an additional $67,500 in contributions since the run-off, of which almost half are from gaming interests, including $20,000 from maquinita kingpin Jesus Navarro and his companies. There are also donations of $4,000 from Ignacio Zulueta, of Academica Charter schools, $5,000 from Gus Machado, and $3,500 from Masoud Shojaee, the owner of Shoma Homes. Another one of the post Robaina PACs is the (2) [Un]Truth for Our Community PAC chaired by Hialeah Housing Authority Director Julio Ponce out of the same Miami Lakes building where Robaina has his offices. Of the $48,000 spent so far since the county race, $16,000 went to McLaughlin & Associates for a survey, another $16,000 to the Americans for a Better Tomorrow PAC (more on that later? who knows?) in West Palm Beach and $12,000 to (3) The Democracy Project. Sound familiar? Yes, it's the new and improved version of the [Non]Accountability Project that spent more than $1 million on the failed Robaina race. Run by veteran PACman extraordinaire Keith Donner, the Democracy Project also got another $10,000 from the Roberto Cayon family that bundled tens of thousands of dollars into the Robaina campaign. Donner funneled the $12K from Ponce's group to the new (4) Citizen Action, Inc., which is responsible for the nasty and completely out of context TV commercials with the 1999 video of Martinez whaling on some poor "innocent" drug dealing convict who had been terrorizing the crowd, according to multiple sources. And, while some people think the TV ad came from the Garcia camp, Ladra believes that one is all alcaldito. Donner could be working with either side, of course. He has no loyalty other than to his fee. And he has friends in the Hernandez camp in Tirador and Tiradorita-in-training Vanessa Brito as well as on the Garcia campaign, in campaign operatives Al Lorenzo and Ana Carbonell. But the money trail leads back to Hernandez through the Ponce PAC contribution. Still... Citizen Action Inc. also got $37,000 from (5) Protect Florida's Economic Freedom, a Tampa PAC with contributions from developer Tibor Hollo ($15,000), Continental Citrus in Broward ($10,000) and Coastal Construction ($10,000). Hey, isn't Coastal Construction doing something at the water plant?

Garcia, whose whole public demeanor and rhetoric has focused on keeping his campaign clean, has his own attack PAC to do the dirty work. The Conservative Leadership Coalition is one of at least four PACs recently formed by treasurer extraordinaire Jose "Pepe" Riesco, the favorite fundraiser for Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart. Riesco also tried, but failed, to stop the recall of former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and tried, and succeeded, to elect a relatively unknown cigar dealer named Jose Oliva in the contested race for state rep in District 110. Of the $24,000 the PAC collected from July 6 to Sept. 30, the largest donation ($6,000) came from Aneli Artwork, a company owned by Shojaee, the owner of Shoma Homes and all its conglomerates (who is hedging his bets Ladra bets). Another $5,000 came from a company tied to developer Armando Codina and another $5,000 came from a company owned by Luis Machado, who has several charter school businesses with Joaquin Aviño and other businesses with lobbyist Felix Lasarte, boss of Hialeah Councilman Pablito "Huh" Hernandez, who has to recuse himself every time the reverse osmosis hypermilliondollar water plant comes before the council. Miami-Dade School Board Member Carlos Curbelo gave $2,000 through his public affairs consulting firm, Capitol Gains. The Coalition PAC has spent $2,125 as of its Sept. 30 reporting deadline -- which does not include this mailer it sent attacking Hernandez.

Garcia, who never knows anything about any backroom dealings or who paid for what survey or where who stands because he doesn't pay any attention to that gossipy part of politics (yadda yadda), denies any connection to the PAC, as if that is going to be all it takes to keep his arm's length. Ladra doesn't like it when someone lies to her face and she knows that he knows about the PAC because, c'mon Senator, we know a lot of the same people. Didn't you think it'd get back to me? When I first asked Garcia about it, he said "I'm not involved." When I explained that of course he was not involved because that was the whole point, but that it was his supporters, he said, "I don't know about it," and "I can't help it if people want to do this." Ladra hardly believes that Riesco is the kind of wreckless freelancer that would just go out on his own and "do this," as Garcia seems to want us to believe. And that's not very transparent, is it?

Martinez may not be forthcoming about everything. But he doesn't lie to my face when he doesn't want to tell me something. When I asked if he had a PAC, he didn't hesitate. "Of course, I have a PAC. Do you think I'm going to let them have a PAC and not have one myself?" Then, when I asked him to tell me the name of the PAC and how much he had raised or who the chairperson was, he laughed. Or scoffed. I can't always tell. "You find out," he barked at me while he walked off to his car. "You're the journalist. I'm not going to do your work for you." But this is honest. And I did find it. Because it wasn't hidden where he could claim no ties to it. It's quite obvious. Mabel Mizrahi, the Dark Prince's longtime assistant, is listed as the chairperson and treasurer of Fiscal Responsibility Now, formed Sept. 20. Yes, it sounds like the Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez PAC, Common Sense Now. And maybe it will be as effective. So far, it has outraised Garcia's PAC 4 to 1 with $108,500, almost half of which ($50,000) comes from John, Steve, and John Jr. Brunetti, $12,000 from Hollywood developer Mercedes Thomas and $10,000 from developer Armando Codina (who I guess is also hedging his bets, though he bet twice as much on Garcia) and Florida National College. He also has $5,000 from Telecuba Communications, a Hialeah company owned by Luis Coello which last year was granted licenses by the U.S. Government, Department of Treasury to install a first of its kind direct fiber optic subsea cable between Key West and Havana -- which will likely fuel the communist campaign crud that is sure to come. Fiscal Responsibility Now has spent $6,000 of its funds -- on advertising on America Teve.

Are we dizzy yet? Do you see why PACs make Ladra growl?

Checks, lies & videotape in Hialeah

Not everyone was so surprised to hear about Hialeah alcaldito Carlos Hernandez's loansharking business. What surprised some people was that it took so long to come out again. But we can probably thank el alcaldito himself for that -- and the campaign. And TV news host Oscar Haza, perhaps. And former Mayor and front-running candidate Raul Martinez, maybe.

It was during Haza's mayoral debate last month that Hernandez was first publicly asked about his role in the "shadow banking" business dealings of former Mayor Julio Robaina, who lost his bid for the county mayoral seat, which were exposed when a Ponzi schemer spilled the beans. Martinez had supplied Haza (and, later, other reporters) with checks made out to Hernandez y Perez. What las malas lenguas tell Ladra is that apparently, Luis Felipe Perez or his mother (more likely, since he is already in the pen) saw the debate where Hernandez calls himself a victim of Felipito's fraud and says he was robbed and that Perez still owes him money. "That's what that mal agradecido says about you after everything you did or didn't do for him, mi gordito," I can imagine her saying. "I told you he's no Julio." So after holding back some, Felipito apparently sang like a pajaro lindo zunzun. We don't know if anyone is investigating su alcaldito for, among other things, usury after charging 36 percent interest, but surely this story should get the state attorney a head start. Because even though Hernandez says he is not under investigation, that doesn't mean he's not. Remember, he is a liar.

Hernandez has gone back and forth on so many issues so many times one might get dizzy trying to keep up. First there's a $19 million surplus in the city accounts. Then there's an $8 million deficit. Then there is no deficit. Then there is a $13 million shortfall. All of it recorded in one way or another. First, he says he has no knowledge of a fundraiser for his campaign by illegal gaming interests. Then -- after he is confronted with the invitation that has his paid political ad disclaimer on it and told that if someone used it without his consent it could be a problem -- he admits that his friend, maquinita kingpin Jesus Navarro, threw the fundraising event. First, he says the bus ride for seniors and the now-famous IHOP brunch to "maximize the exposure" for his campaign was paid for by an anonymous donor from the community who did not want to be identified. On video. Then, it was paid out of the city's general fund. First, he says the checks paid to Felipito Perez were never cashed. On a TV debate. Then, he says they were payment for interest on two loans totaling $180,000 and that he was still owed the principal. On tape. Then, he says it was for the principal, which was paid first, contrary to all common lending business practices. On video. Then he says there was no written agreement. Yeah, riiiiight. I bet notary to the sharks Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz can tell us. According to people who know, "she has her fingerprints on everything," meaning she notarized the paperwork for all the First Hialeah Bank of Julito preferred customers, including Perez. Casals-Muñoz, who has distanced herself from su alcaldito, told Ladra last month that she had spoken to investigators in the grand jury case and had provided them with copies of her documents.

Hernandez lies about everything. He lies about the bogus budget filled with discrepancies and errors and, perhaps, intentional nooks an crannies. He lies about city employees. He lies about the negotiations with the fire union. He lies about his abuse of the police department. He lies about not knowing Tony "Phony" Vega. He lies about the people who supposedly called and asked him for the backwards efficiency law. He lies about his critics. So of course he's going to lie about his own, shady business dealings. And that's why people, finally, don't believe him anymore. And we don't mean just the press -- although Ladra and the Miami Herald (denounced after its story on su alcaldito's freelance loan consulting business) may soon be joined by other reporters from TV and radio. Journalists like Pedro Sevcec, who guest hosted A Mano Limpia last week in what is one of the most breathtakingly wonderful pieces of TV magazine journalism I have ever seen. " Oh, look! What a coincidence," Sevcec exaggeratedly and sarcastically exclaims about the 37 checks made out to Hernandez from Perez, all for exactly $3,000 or $2,400 -- the exact amount if it were for interest, not principal as he claims. Sevcec did all but wink, wink at the audience. Even more importantly, though, voters are starting to see through their alcaldito's lies.

According to tracking reported by one of the other campaigns, Hernandez's numbers have gone down dramatically from about a 28 on Monday to a 20 or 21 Friday, after the story came out. I guess voters are finally getting the idea that their alcaldito is not all he says he is (read: he is lying). The wildest thing about that is that Hernandez himself hurried the story, which was reportedly scheduled to go into the big, highly distributed Sunday paper -- giving him two or three more days of absentee voting before the negative headlines. But by scheduling a press conference for Thursday and announcing it Wednesday, Hernandez played the Herald's hand and pushed the story up to Thursday. Who's giving this guy media advice? Is it that other liar, absentee ballot queen Sasha Tirador? No wonder.

Ladra would be very surprised if one of them or both, more likely, don't lie about something again today. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

City paid for campaign pancakes

Two weeks after that infamous lunch with senior residents from public housing at IHOP -- you know, where Alcaldito Carlos Hernandez insulted balseros and divorced women and Council President Isis "Gavergirl" Garcia-Martinez had a hissy fit when we caught her in a blatant lie -- we still don't know what the real cost was and who paid for the city-promoted event, which was really a campaign stop for su alcaldito and his incumbent slate. Was it an "anonymous donor" who footed the bill, as was first claimed, or it was it on the taxpayers' tab? We still don't know. When we ask the actual alcaldito and the council members live and in person, their lips are sealed (unlike at IHOP). But the official story from their mouthpieces and go-betweens keeps changing, too.

So, who paid for lunch?

At first, the mayor's campaign director and absentee ballot queen Sasha Tirador said repeatedly that the lunch was paid for by an "anonymous" donation to the special events department for such events and that the donor did not want to be known for fear of retribution (an inadvertent admission that even their camp believes former Mayor Raul Martinez will return). I believe Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez may have said so also. On the radio. An invoice from the restaurant is addressed to the city, but it does not indicate where the funds came from. The bill was $500 for 50 pancake combos including drinks at $10 per person (though I don't think there were 50 senior residents there. Let's count them in our popular video -- destined to be a greatest hits -- by my new best friend, cameraman Raul "El Toro" Torres: The bill from IHOP was sent to the city's communications and special events department and the check request is from Education and Community Services (the new umbrella for the special events department, which is code for political PR department). The event is called an "adult center program" and there is no reference to the alleged "anonymous" donor that supposedly did not want to be named. Ladra wants to know -- no, scratch that -- needs to know who the "anonymous donor" is (or, conversely, why anyone felt the need to lie about that). It could be relevant if it turns out to be one of the alcaldito's big financial supporters on his campaign like Robertico Blanco or Herman Echevarria or, even, Julio Robaina. Wouldn't that be relevant? The source of funding could further show -- not that there really needs to be any more nails in that coffin -- that the city-promoted, staff-supported event was a campaign stop in disguise. That's why I pressed Hernandez and the others about it. Now that the story has changed and it looks like the check came out of the general fund, then it is a taxpayer-funded, city-paid event for campaign purposes and su alcaldito and his incumbent-slate-minus-one used city resources to woo voters. City funds, city staff, city vehicles.

The event was supposed to be an unveiling of eight new circulator buses from the county. But two weeks later, those buses are not on Hialeah streets. They're parked in a fleet maintenance yard, out of service. Why would you unveil buses that won't be in use for five or six weeks? That's how long it will take, said City Attorney Bill "Go-Between" Grodnick, in a clumsy stab at an explanation about titles from the county and whether or not they were going to get the title or leave it with the county. Or something. I am not making this up. Look at the video by Raul Torres:

So, this hasn't been decided yet and you unveil the buses? Really? Really? It isn't because there wouldn't be a campaign opportunity when they are ready three or four weeks from now, is it? Because if he waited until the buses were actually ready, su alcaldito wouldn't be able to "maximize the exposure," (read: milk the spin) as Grodnick said -- finally, some truth -- when he answered for the mute mayorette for the I-don't-know-whath-time at Tuesday's council meeting (more on that later). But nobody, not even Grodnick, could answer the basic question that we still have after 14 days: Who paid for lunch?

Gavelgirl said everybody knew that and suggested I be more specific with my questions of the city clerk's office. (Read: "Next"). Okay, next it is. Because now I'm not satisfied with this one alleged anonymous pancake party patron, if indeed there ever was one. Now Ladra wants a list of all, anonymous or not anonymous, donations, gifts, grants or contributions of any kind to any department, division, office or officer or any part thereof in the city or any quasi-independent agency, such as Hialeah Housing by or from or through any person, group of persons, any corporation, any non-profit, or any entity of any kind since January 1 of this year. And where those monies were applied. I want to get information, which could be verbal if someone is allowed to speak with me, about the process by which donors contribute to these events and whether or not there is criteria. I also want to know what the city paid in gas, salary for the five or six or more employees that were there woofing down their own pancake combos at IHOP two weeks ago and any other costs associated with that particular roadtrip event. I'm making a public records request for the photographs and video that the city recorded of the event and will ask for those. To see if they match up with any campaign ads. Because the event was definitely a political campaign stop on what I now call (thanks, Bill) the "maximize the exposure" tour (more on that later).

My man 'El Toro' even has, on video, some campaign literature on a table that would have been taken out if we had not been there. A man entered the IHOP with a Hernandez for mayor t-shirt and was told to remove it. Then he became very aggressive with us both at IHOP and the next day at the Gus Machado Ford on West 49th Street when I went to speak on a live radio broadcast to counter su alcaldito's lies. This guy with the t-shirt incident said, and it was recorded by Telemundo 51, that "it was a political meeting."

Bingo. Told ya.

And if it is a political meeting being paid for with city funds and/or it is being attended by city staff on city time, it is not only a political meeting, but an illegal political meeting. Maybe Internal Affairs should investigate that.

Maybe then they can tell us who really paid for lunch: The taxpayers.

More no-bid $$ in Hialeah handouts

Tuesday's episode of As Hialeah Churns was [almost] a real sleeper.

There was (of course) no restraining order awaiting Ladra at City Hall when she went -- without incident -- to the city council meeting. There was no verbal sparring between the Dark Prince and the man who thinks he's king. There was no sea of red shirts and far fewer TV cameras than in recent days, too, so there was less self-promotional grandstanding.

There was, however, still lots of disrespect and disdain for the public and critical employees like supervisor Jose "Pepper" Azze, who refuses to back down when su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez won't answer a simple question. And they stuck to using City Attorney Bill Go-Between Grodnick to answer for them in his desperate "because I say so" tone. But more on that later.

And there were still, of course, a bunch of no-bid contracts -- nine for a little more than $500,000. Though some of the requests to waive the competitive process were for sole source vendors (their italics, not mine) -- and it's always "advantageous for the city" -- there were some expenditures on that consent agenda that may be questionable in these hard economic times.  This includes $30,000 worth of Papa John's Pizza, the exclusive pizza provider for city events. Ladra can't help but wonder how many city events one has to have with pizza to go through $2,500 a month in Papa John's. That's a lot of pepperoncinis in these austere economic times. There were other requests to increase purchase orders and/or "amend the contract" and Ladra can't help but wonder what the cumulative impact of all this willy-nilly spending is. Oh, wait, I know. It's cutting employees' pay by 30 percent and firing 40 percent of your fire rescue personnel so you can keep handing out juicy deals and contracts to your friends and political backers. More than half of that half-million in handouts went to extend the contract, without going to bid, for janitorial services by Silva Management of Miami -- who contributed at least $750 to the failed county mayoral campaign by former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who Ladra smells behind the strings on su alcaldito at City Hall. The same amount was donated to the Robaina campaign by MacMillan Oil Company, which had a huge night at the dais. First, the council waived going to bid and use a previous 2008 bid to pay for $42,000 in diesel for generators at the future Reverse Osmosis water treatment plant. Then, the company owned by Amancio and Daniel Alonso got a $465,000 increase in another purchase order for diesel fuel. But that wasn't enough. MacMillan also got a $1.4 purchase order tacked onto their 3-year old bid. More water treatment plant business also went to SRS Engineering, which got a $30,000 purchase order to design some wells and piping. They had invested $1,700 in Robaina's campaign.

We will know later this week if any of these companies have given to any of the current incumbents campaign accounts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Election starts today with ABs

Forget Nov. 1. The election in Hialeah starts today.

That's when absentee voters will begin to get their ballots in their mail. Then, they'll each probably get a phone call from one campaign or the other to ask if they received their absentee ballot and if they know what to do with it -- or maybe want help to fill it out, wink wink. They will likely have someone offer a free postage stamp or -- and here's the clincher -- volunteer to take it for them to the the next mailbox or post office. Seniors who live in public housing might have already been "prepped" for the ballot drop. There could be a collection by a "coordinator" in the comedor. Or one of the resident neighbors who -- for pay or for passion -- "helps" fill in the bubbles and then bundles them for one or the other campaign. Or one of the office secretaries, who has the power to make a resident's life miserable all year long, might collect them door to door. We've heard all the stories. Some people have even reported having their ballots stolen out of their very mailboxes.

Because it's an easily maniputable process -- and even lends itself to downright destruction of and tampering with ballots (read: theft of votes) -- ABs have become increasingly popular and easier to abuse in Florida over the years as lawmakers (who stand much to gain or lose) make changes that weaken the checks and balances. It has created a cottage industry of "ballot brokers" who charge thousands or tens of thousands to, first, drive absentee ballot requests and, then, make sure they are reaped when its time to harvest -- before the other farmers come around. The queen broker is Sasha Tirador, who I've seen and heard from way too much lately but who cannot be ignored as the ABs hit the street in Hialeah. Tirador has been the queen for quite a while on the ABs, especially in the City of Retrogress. She has long been suspected of using unscrupulous and even illicit methods and was investigated by the State Attorney's Office for absentee voter fraud after the 2008 congressional race where former Mayor Raul Martinez lost to former U.S. Respresenatative Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Tirador, who is now working for alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and his slate of incumbents-minus-one-plus-one, worked for Diaz-Balart, who, las malas lenguas say, is silently supporting former State Sen. Rudy Garcia in the mayoral race (he certainly can't support Hernandez after the former council president publicly backed Martinez in the congressional race). Despite telling me once a few weeks ago that she would show me the AB ropes, Ladra highly doubts now that Tirador was sincere. She's dishonest about everything (more on that later). But not about the voter fraud inquiry -- since she declined to give a voluntary statement. And no wonder. Prosecutors found widespread evidence that absentee ballot fraud had ocurred, but chickened out, er, I mean decided not to press charges against anybody because it would be difficult to prove. Tirador's rotten reign may be ending, however, as shown in the last couple of elections where she has run her machine. After handing handy victories in 2009 -- where former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina got 9,147 of the 9,756 absentee votes, practically tripling his his 3,280 AB votes in 2005 -- she worked for the failed state rep bid by former Farm Bureau chief Katie Edwards, who is now running for a state house seat in Broward. Then stumped for current Hialeah council candidate Frank Lago when he ran for state rep, but many say she wasn't really trying since her main boss, Robaina, was apparently supporting Jose Oliva, who did win (Rep. District 110). She lost Robaina's bid for county mayor, but while he won in ABs, he only got a little more than 1,000 over Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. But there is no denying that the ABs have become crucial. In the June 28 race, more people voted absentee (81,355) than on Election Day (79,802). The difference came in the early voting numbers (39,595) where Gimenez had a wider lead. One could argue that Hernandez and his henchmen, including Tirador, count on most of Hialeah's 9,000+ AB votes marked for their master/mentor Robaina in June.

While they may deny it -- or disguise it with words like "get out the vote" -- the other two mayoral campaigns, and their respective slates or lack thereof, have some kind of absentee ballot strategy (Ladra does not count George Castro because there is enough she can't get to already). The AB plan could be intricately detailed and complicated -- as in city employee drivers who shuttle little old ladies to a series of assisted living facilities where residents can't tell you what day of the week it is but will "sign" absentee ballots -- or as simple as just calling AB voters to remind them of their committment or a candidate's platform or position. Armies of volunteers (and, in some cases, perhaps paid ballot brokers) will fan out across the city to ensure that the ABs they have counted as their supporters are safely delivered first -- before they get snatched up by another campaign.

"This is vital, because nowadays, you can win or lose an election by absentee votes," Martinez said as he spoke to about 100 supporters and volunteers Monday night, careful to stress the importance of getting the ABs that they believe are for his team without touching or carrying any ballots. "Under no circumstances are you to mark the ballot," he said slowly. "'If you want me to do it, the answer is no. But I can tell you who I support and why.'" On the other hand, the absentee ballots are not counted if filled out improperly. "That's the kind of help we can offer," Martinez told them. "Don't take that ballot. The voter has to go and put it in the mail." The city's firefighters, who spearheaded a voter fraud prevention campaign during the mayoral election (maybe that's why Gimenez's lead was a scant 1,000 instead of 3,000+) and have already been going around promoting the union-endorsed Martinez, will carry stamps and wheelchairs to make it easier for people to vote by mail, but have been instructed not to take any ballots and to only offer their choices if asked. And absolutely no ballots are to be brought back to the campaign headquarters. "I don't want any ballots here. They will say you are a ballot broker," Martinez said, because in Hialeah you kinda have to make it clear to any over-zealous supporters. "We have to remind them not to give the ballot over to anyone."

Martinez told Ladra he had never done an AB campaign before and while I want to believe him, he would either have to be (a) very new at this or (b) very bad at it -- and he is (c) something else. What I do believe is that the Dark Prince won't try anything now. "The eyes are always going to be on me," he said. "They are going to be watching to see what we do, to see what Raul Martinez does." He's right. We already know that he is being watched by internal affairs. At least sometimes. Ladra is sure she is in some of the pictures. After all, if he lets me in to hear his AB team rah speech, I'm staying. (More on that later). But what he means is that they are always going to be watching, waiting for him to make a wrong move. He has to be more careful than most. And so does anyone around him.

"None of us want to win if any of you get in trouble," Martinez told an adoring crowd that listened, mostly standing, for half an hour. "It would not be pleasant to be sitting up there and have one of you behind bars."

Ladra's not sure he has much to worry about. The state attorney's office has known about voter fraud for years and, it seems to this dog, it would be easy to stop if they got people on the inside or simply put some surveillance on the usual suspects -- names that always come up no matter who Ladra talks to about AB harvesting -- and make a real dent in this detriment to democracy. What are they waiting for?