Thomas Kennedy: It’s Time for A New Miami City Attorney

Miami residents will soon have the opportunity to take a significant step in turning the page on one of the most corrupt chapters in City of Miami history.

New Commissioner Miguel Gabela seems to be making good on his promise to tackle corruption in Miami City Hall and has introduced an item to fire City Attorney Victoria Mendez, who has been plagued by scandals throughout her tenure.

The item Gabela introduced was initially scheduled to be heard in December but was delayed until January 11th. Anyone who cares about Miami moving forward past the quagmire nhjof corruption and incompetence plaguing the city should try to be at the commission meeting to support the removal of Mendez from her position.

Firing Mendez is supported by Gabela and is under consideration by Commissioner Damian Pardo, both elected after riding a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, defeating perennial politician Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who technically was not an incumbent after being recently removed from office by Governor Ron DeSantis due to his recent arrests for charges that included money laundering, criminal conspiracy, bribery and more. Sabina Covo was also ousted after misreading the mood of the electorate and failing to adequately confront corruption in City Hall.

Victoria Mendez has operated less like a city attorney and more like a mob lawyer, both covering for the corrupt antics of politicians at City Hall — while also complicit and grifting herself.

She was implicated when one of the most corrupt characters in Miami government, current Commissioner Joe Carollo, lost a lawsuit against the owners of a venue in Little Havana called Ball & Chain and was ordered to pay a total of $63.5 million, on top of legal fees, for weaponizing city agencies against them and their tenants due to their support for one of Carollo’s political opponents. 

In one of the most shocking testimonies that took place in Carollo’s trial, former Miami Commissioner Ken Russell said that Mendez told him businesses in his district were being targeted by code enforcement to make the politically motivated harassment of businesses within Carollo’s district less suspicious.

Not only were the initial businesses inappropriately and unfairly targeted by Carollo, but those that had nothing to do with this mess at all were affected merely as collateral damage as city agencies were weaponized with the help of the city attorney! It’s the stuff one would expect of a cliché banana republic right here in the City of Miami.

The Ball & Chain saga didn’t end with the $65.5 million — there is another lawsuit filed by the same owners claiming that Mendez, City Manager Art Noriega, and several other city employees were complicit and that the city also should pay. Their case looks strong and it’s us, the taxpayers, who will be on the hook again for the criminal behavior of these politicians and bureaucrats.

When Mayor Francis Suarez was found to be under FBI investigation after secretly taking up to $170,000 payments from a developer who later thanked Suarez in an email for intervening with the city zoning director to cut red tape for one of the developer’s luxury projects, Suarez went on Telemundo to claim that Mendez told him as City Attorney that it was ethical to do that.

The first commission meeting attended by Gabela and Pardo was an emergency special meeting that was convened to fix a budget blunder that could cost taxpayers upwards of $56 million in state gas tax funds. The city has been operating under an invalid budget since September due to only four commissioners voting on it after Diaz de la Portilla’s suspension from office. Mendez had an opinion from the state that made it clear the vote would be invalid, but she didn’t care to follow it.

It doesn’t stop there, Mendez is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to petty corruption. Under the Guardianship Program of Dade County, a private, nonprofit agency was supposed to care for those deemed by a court to be incapacitated and don’t have the money to afford a private guardian, and who have no friends or family willing to take care of them. Staff would take control of their assets — including vehicles and real estate — and sell them to help pay for future care and living expenses. Turns out the program was caught selling incapacitated people’s homes to a real company called Express Homes which was owned by Victoria Mendez’s husband, who would then resell them for profit. 

An investigation by WLRN found that Express Homes used his connection to Miami City Hall to get code violations resolved, according to a lawsuit filed by a former homeowner. The homes were then flipped for hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they paid for the properties, to the financial benefit of Mendez and her husband. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was also involved in several transactions with Express Homes as a real estate attorney.

The story gets even worse. A Miami Code inspector said his virtual signature was used without his permission in a key document that allowed Mendez’s husband to avoid $300,000 in fines, according to a lawsuit claiming she and her husband used “deceptive” acts to acquire and resell real estate.

Mendez made headlines on top of headlines recently when she unsuccessfully tried to get the judge presiding over the trial to stop any pictures or footage being taken during her Zoom hearing. Transparency for anyone except themselves when it comes to Miami City Hall.

“Anytime there’s a problem, she’s in the middle of the storm,” Gabela recently told Political Cortadito. I couldn’t agree more.

It is clear to anyone paying attention that Victoria Mendez is complicit in the corruption that has gripped the City of Miami government and can no longer be trusted to carry forward her responsibilities as city attorney with integrity and transparency. She is providing legal cover for corrupt politicians when not engaging in outright unethical behavior herself. It’s time for Miami Commissioners to finally fire her on January 11th.

Thomas Kennedy is a writer, advocate, and elected Democratic National Committee member living in Miami. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @tomaskenn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *