Florida Mayor, Councilman Indicted in Racketeering Case
MIAMI (AP) _ Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez surrendered to the FBI today on charges that he conspired with a city councilman to extort payoffs from developers in exchange for approving zoning changes on properties.
Gov. Bob Martinez on Tuesday suspended both Martinez and Councilman Andres Mejides without pay after they were indicted by a federal grand jury following a five-year investigation into the operation of the state’s fifth-largest city.
″These are extremely serious charges that go to the very essence of trust in government, and the people of Hialeah deserve to know that their officials have the public’s best interest in mind at all times,″ said the governor, who is not related to the mayor. ″Until these charges can be resolved, these two officials should not hold their positions of trust.″
Both city officials and were scheduled to appear this afternoon before a federal magistrate.
″Martinez obtained benefits, including money and property for himself and others, by expressly using and threatening to use the powers of his office as Mayor of the city of Hialeah,″ the indictment said.
Raul Martinez, 41, was named in two Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization counts, along with seven extortion-related counts, and faces a maximum 180 years in prison and fines of $2.25 million, said Marcella Cohen, first assistant U.S. attorney.
″Keep the faith and at the end, I am going to prevail because I am innocent,″ Raul Martinez said in a message to constituents Tuesday.
Mejides, 51, also was named in the two racketeering counts, along with four counts of obtaining property by extortion, and faces maximum penalties of 120 years and fines of $1.5 million.
The government also claims that Martinez must forfeit $900,000 in property and cash that he allegedly obtained from racketeering activities. Mejides must forfeit $24,000 in property, the government said.
City council president Julio Martinez, who is not related to either the governor or suspended mayor, was sworn in late Tuesday as acting mayor.
Former city council candidates Paulino Nunez and Evelio Medina, who were the highest unelected vote-getters in the last city election, were sworn in to fill the resulting council vacancies.
The indictment Tuesday also named several other current and former Hialeah officials as unindicted co-conspirators. The indictment charges that between 1981 and 1987 half of the city’s eight elected officials repeatedly shook down developers and builders seeking to rezone property in Hialeah.
Raul Martinez has been mayor of the predominantly Hispanic working-class city of more than 200,000 residents since 1981. He was handily re-elected to a fifth term in November after a campaign in which opponents raised the issue of his real estate dealings.
The mayor replied that he had been under federal scrutiny for years, but apparently without any finding of wrongdoing. He has charged the investigations were politically motivated.