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NUMBER 13 - JANUARY 21, 2019
WILL THIS WEEK'S COMMISSION MEETING SEE A POCKET ITEM INTRODUCED THAT COMMITS THE CITY TO END THE FLAGSTONE LAWSUIT AND PAY OUT $55 MILLION IN DAMAGES? AND WHAT ROLE DID A ANONYMOUS LEGAL BRIEF ENTITLED: "THE STORY OF CHAOS AND ITS DISRUPTOR," PLAY IN TRYING TO INFLUENCE THIS DECISION?
The Flagstone/Island Gardens saga has been dragging on since 2002, and during all that time the company failed, for numerous reasons, to deliver on their lease agreements to build a resort on Watson Island.
During that time there were mayors and commissioners - most notably Tomas Regalado, along with current commissioner Willie Gort and former commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Francis Suarez, along with city employees - starting with former Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo, City Planning Director Francisco Garcia, and various Asset Management Department employees, as well as unnamed building and code enforcement officials - who engaged in efforts to help make it possible for Flagstone to slip and slide around city ordinances and building code requirements, and in the case of Planning and Zoning Director Francisco Garcia, Asset Management Director Daniel Rotenberg and Deputy Director Aldo Bustamante, agreeing to become witnesses for Flagstone in their lawsuit against the city.
Among the classic examples of how the city's Planning Department played footsie under the table with Flagstone, before they became witnesses on their behalf was the below email sent to Flagstone's principal owner Mahmet Bayraktar by his attorney describing how, with the guidance and collusion of the Planning Department, they could evade having to go through the process associated with submitting a major revision of their building plans by submitting fake plans that would allow the major changes they wanted to make to be considered "minor," and then, after Planning and Zoning approved those "minor" changes, they could submit their real plans.
In 2017, I wrote a series of stories about Flagstone's efforts to operate an illegal restaurant on the property which was eventually shut down by the Florida Department of Health, (HERE,) and where I was also able to document that former mayor Tomas Regalado - no stranger to free meals - had shown up and posed with the Chef while the place was operating in violation of the city's issued Vacant Land Use permit. (HERE)
From the very beginning, this whole Flagstone Island Gardens deal has been one shit show after another, with the taxpayers of Miami being the ones who were constantly being shit on, and as documents were obtained as a result of public records lawsuits started revealing, there were so many dirty deeds and efforts to evade the requirements of the various leases and amended leases that former commissioner Frank Carollo felt compelled to introduce an Amendment to the City Charter on the sale or lease of city owned property, that was approved by the voters in 2015.
The most persistent private citizen waging the fight against the Flagstone Group's efforts to build a resort on Watson Island was a guy named Steven Herbits, who, when this all began, lived in the pyramid condo building on the Venetian Causeway across from Watson Island.
First on his own, and then with a group he helped form called, Coalition Against Causeway Chaos, Herbits waged a persistent battle with the city over Flagstone's lease and failure to comply with its terms, and in the process managed to piss off Mahmet Bayraktar, the owner of Flagstone to the point where Bayraktar, through Flagstone Island Gardens, LLC, filed a Tortuous Interference lawsuit against Herbits and several others, a lawsuit which was thrown out of court.
Not to be deterred, Bayraktar came back with a 2nd lawsuit, and in a recent effort to amend this lawsuit, the court dismissed 3 of the 6 counts with prejudice, 2 of the 6 counts without prejudice, and left one count to go forward as is.
In addition to the lawsuits, an anonymous quasi-legal brief attacking Herbits and Commissioner Ken "Sellout" Russell, was prepared and circulated secretly several months ago.
A reading of the brief indicates that it was clearly written and circulated as an effort to pressure the City Commission to drop their lawsuit and settle with Mahmet Bayraktar, and doing so by making Herbits and Russell co-conspirators in Russell's Resolution to find Flagstone in default which the writer claimed would result in massive costs to the city.
I was provided a copy of this document last week, and found it to be a classic example of how people with secret agendas engage in seldom seen behind the scenes operations to try and get what they want from the city without coming out into the public arena where everyone can see what they're up to.
This understandably narrows the list of possible author(s), since it had to be someone close to Bayraktar and Flagstone, and very knowledgable and the intricacies of the history of the case, and it also raises a more important question of just who was provided this information, because this was clearly a document written with a specific agenda in mind?
"THE STORY OF CHAOS AND ITS DISRUPTOR"
The City of Miami operates much the same way an iceberg is configured. There's a little bit at the top that is visible to public view, and a lot at the bottom under the surface, that very few people get to see or know exists.
The anonymous quasi-legal brief that I received came with 13 footnotes, purporting to set out the argument that Steven Herbits, in collusion with Commissioner "Sellout" Russell were largely responsible for the problems associated with both the failure of Flagstone/Island Gardens to move forward with their resort project on Watson Island, and most especially for the lawsuit that Flagstone was forced to file after a Special Commission meeting called the summer of 2017, in response to a request by Russell to rescind Flagstone's leases for breach of contract.
Here is the narrative portion of this packet:
In Miami, anything is possible, and this week's city commission's agenda shows that a attorney-client, "shade" meeting has been scheduled to discuss the Flagstone/Island Gardens issue that could lead to a pocket item being introduced during the afternoon session to pay the Flagstone Group's owner Mehmet Bayraktar, a $55 million settlement to end the lawsuit, thereby short-circuiting the on-going legal proceedings, including a scheduled February 7th, Special Hearing for partial summary judgements requested by both parties.
For what it's worth, I would agree that Steven Herbits played a role in Russell's decision to introduce his motion to find Flagstone Island Gardens in default of their lease contracts with the city.
Herbits having had a hard-on about that project since the beginning, was able to convince others in his condo, and others around the city to form the Coalition Against Causeway Chaos, and they in turn did what groups like it have always done when they are created to support or oppose legislation and political decisions: they applied pressure the old-fashioned way by sending letters to politicians.
"CHAOS collectively sent 20,000 letters and emails to the City
of Miami, threatening City Officials with criminal prosecution
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that on occasion I have urged readers to send letters to the city commission, and there is nothing that I would like better than the ability to reach 20,000 people in Miami willing to write the Mayor and City Commissioners letters threatening them with criminal prosecution and punishment, starting with "Water Pistol Joe" Carollo!
In fact, getting 20,000 people to send letters on a weekly, or even monthly basis would represent a new, and positive level of civic response to the on-going bullshit that passes for governance in Miami!
But sending letters, or another tried and true effort to influence commissioners by busing residents in on buses to sit in the Commission Chambers wearing Tee-Shirts, or getting commissioners to introduce or oppose legislation is neither against the law, or even an issue, because every City Commissioner and every Mayor of Miami often makes decisions and introduces or opposes legislation based on the encouragement and efforts of paid lobbyists, deep-pocket political contributors and even well meaning private citizens.
It's called politics, and like it or not, that's the way the real political world works.
The ad hominem attack against Herbits and Russell were red herring attacks meant not only to portray them in the worst possible light, but to do so while evading and ignoring the fact that the decision to revoke the lease agreement with Flagstone occurred after a Special Commission Meeting where ALL 5 Commissioners voted to revoke the leases, and where Commissioner - now Mayor - Francis Suarez, and Commissioner Frank Carollo offered their own, independent reasons for being in favor of revoking their leases.
Here is the video portion of that meeting, which makes it very clear that neither of these guys needed any prompting or guidance from Russell to vote against Flagstone.
Personal attacks by lawyers against fellow lawyers is frowned upon by the Florida Bar, providing another reason why this brief was written anonymously and circulated secretly.
PIN THE TAIL ON COMMISSIONER "SELLOUT" RUSSELL
There are any number of reasons to go after Ken Russell, and whoever wrote this anonymous brief obviously intended to use this document as a weapon that not only as a way to try and influence hie fellow commissioners to reject the pending appeal, but also as a weapon that could be used against him in his reelection bid.
Politics is a contact sport, and Russell has certainly said and done a number of things that have encouraged folks, including me, to publicly call for his being voted out of office, starting with his behavior in providing cover for the backroom arrangement between Francis Suarez and Jorge Mas on the soccer stadium deal, as well as his actions in trying to force the folks in the West Grove who own the shotgun wooden houses to go along with his misguided efforts to force historic preservation status on them whether they wanted it or not, as well as his misguided decision to run for Congress a year into his first term as a city commissioner - but the notion that Russell, with, or without encouragement from Steven Herbits was solely responsible for the Flagstone/Island Gardens lawsuit ignores the facts associated with Flagstone 16 years of non-compliance which led to collective decision of the 5 members of the City Commission, to support a vote declaring Flagstone in default.
Was it a smart legal decision?
That's a question best left to the judges of the 3rd DCA.
Speaking for myself, and having sat in Circuit Judge William Thomas's courtroom and watched and listened to him on a case (Video HERE), that even I could predict the 3rd DCA would overturn after he issued his opinion, (3rd DCA Opinion HERE), I would be willing to put money down that if this case were to make it to the 3rd DCA, Flagstone/Island Gardens could very possibly lose.
Even though there was always speculation that the reason that Mahmet Bayraktar never managed to start construction on his resort was because he didn't have the money, it would be more than ironic, in fact it would be classic Miami, that if the city really agrees to drop the lawsuit and give him $55 million in settlement money, he might at long last, thanks to that decision finally end up with the money to build the resort using the taxpayers money.
It's always Miami, Bitches!
In addition, after the commission vote, Tomas Regalado, the mayor at the time, had the opportunity to veto this Resolution, and didn't.
USING ANONYMITY TO ATTACK FELLOW LAWYERS
As I wrote above, it's clear to me, as I am sure it will be clear to others who read the brief, that it was written by an attorney, and not just any attorney, but one with very intimate knowledge of the issues, and the lawsuit.
Whoever wrote the brief went out of their way to also engage in personal attacks on the attorneys selected to represent the City Commission, and an indirect attack on Richard Ovelman, whose only connection to the case was that he represents Herbits against Flagstone's tortuous interference lawsuit.
NUMBER 14 - JANUARY 24, 2019
PHOTO OF THE DAY - FRANCIS "JITTERBUG" SUAREZ, MIAMI'S PART-TIME, CEREMONIAL MAYOR WENT TO WASHINGTON FOR THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF MAYOR'S MEETING, AND TOOK ALONG ALEX LAMPROU, AKA "SNEAKERS THE BODYGUARD." I WONDER IF HE ALSO TOOK HIS OTHER BODYGUARD?
Here is Alex "Sneakers The Bodyguard" Lamprou, with Suarez and Willie Gort at the airport on the way to Spain a couple weeks ago. The photo prompted a Crespogram Twitter follower to come up with, "Sneakers The Bodyguard."
To date, the Miami Police Department has refused to release the travel documents for "Sneakers" and any other bodyguards that went to Spain.
At last year's Conference of Mayor's he not only had Lamprou protecting him, but also the Chief of Police, because when you're a part-time ceremonial Mayor, you need all the trapping of power that you can surround yourself with so people won't think you're just a lightweight.