Former Comm. Guilty of Bribery
Oct. 22, 1999
MIAMI (AP) _ A former Miami-Dade County commissioner, seen on tape proclaiming ``This is a wonderful country'' as he took a $5,000 kickback, was convicted Thursday of one count of bribery.
Eight other charges against former commissioner James Burke and all the charges against his former top aide and a bond dealer also accused in the bribery scandal were dropped.
Prosecutors had charged that Burke and former aide Billy Hardemon sold out the public trust by taking kickbacks to steer business to San Francisco financier Calvin Grigsby, a founder of what was once the nation's leading minority-owned municipal bond firm.
Grigsby allegedly arranged to pay $350,000 in bribes to Burke and Hardemon to help obtain a $180 million refinancing bond on a recycling plant and a $210 million bond issue on a sports arena, and a third bond deal was discussed.
Hardemon was accused of pressing a county finance committee to award the bond business to Grigsby's San Francisco firm, the now defunct Grigsby Brandford & Co.
The case was based largely on audio and video surveillance tapes, including the tape of Burke taking $5,000 from the informant.
The defense blamed the man handing over the money, bond dealer and former Miami city manager Howard Gary. Gary, who wore a wire, had made a deal with prosecutors and was not charged in the case.
Burke, who was released pending sentencing Jan. 28, was upbeat after being cleared of the other charges Thursday.
``God has been very good to me all these years,'' he said. ``I don't believe he's brought me all this way to leave me.''
Burke attorney Ed Shohat said, ``This jury had great difficulty returning a verdict _ don't lose sight of that.''
In a separate federal trial, Grigsby and two Port of Miami officials were acquitted in June of stealing $1.3 million from the county.