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Miami Beach Mayor Levine to Respond to Plea for Harmony

Miami Beach Mayor Levine to Respond to Plea for Harmony

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Published by davidwalters
Philip Levine's associate, developer Scott Robins, declares retaliatory war on tenant harassed for reporting unlawful conduct on South Beach's popular Espanola Way
Philip Levine's associate, developer Scott Robins, declares retaliatory war on tenant harassed for reporting unlawful conduct on South Beach's popular Espanola Way

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Published by: davidwalters on Apr 02, 2014
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08/23/2014

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MIAMI MIRROR
–    
 TRUE REFLECTIONS 
 
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MIAMI BEACH MAYOR UNRESPONSIVE TO PLEA FOR HARMONY
His Partner Scott Robins Declares Retaliatory War on Harassed Tenant
April 2, 2014 UPDATED: April 3, 2014 MIAMI BEACH
Mayor Philip Levine has not responded to my March 18 plea for his assistance in effecting an harmonious resolution to the harassment of Antonio Halabi, owner of the Flame Caffe & Grill, by tenants and his landlord on Espanola Way in retaliation for his complaints that the Code Compliance Division of the City of Miami Beach Building Department has caused irreparable harm to his business and family because of the failure of its officers, directors and supervisors to properly perform their official duties. However, he has responded to a request by David Kelsey, President of the South Beach Hotel & Restaurant Association, to look into the matter, saying he would be glad to do just that. In sum, it appears that
the selective, negligent and discriminatory enforcement of the city’s
sidewalk café code on Espanola Way has allowed a dominant group of restaurants at the Washington Avenue end of the popular tourist destination to regularly set out scores of
 
MIAMI MIRROR
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 TRUE REFLECTIONS 
 
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unpermitted chairs and tables to capture the tourist traffic before it reaches the end of the block on the plaza where the Flame is situated. Other restaurants set out illegal chairs and tables to capture any overflow, while Halabi punctiliously obeys the law not only because Compliance officers have harassed him but because he believes laws should be evenly enforced. The pattern of enforcement along Espanola Way raises not only the question of misprision but the possibility of moral and criminal corruption as well. Halabi received intimidating visits from the violators and Compliance officers after he reported the infractions to high city officials including former Commissioner Jerry Libbin, City Manager Jimmy Morales, Compliance Director Robert Santos-Alborna, and Compliance Police Commander Hernan Cardeno. Cardeno, a former Golden Beach police chief, was put in command of Compliance two years ago during a fruitless FBI investigation of Santos-Alborna at the height of the scandal over the FBI arrests of code enforcement officers. Halabi said he believes Cardeno is making a sincere effort to correct the misconduct on Espanola Way albeit far too late. Jimmy Morales, a political insider with no professional business management experience, was shoed-in to the city manager position instead of management candidates recommended by a professional recruiting firm. He hired Mariano Fernandez, former director of the Miami building department, to direct the scandalized Miami Beach building department. So-called reform commissioners recruited local developer and cruise industry businessman Philip Levine to run for mayor. He won the position thanks to the endorsement of his friend Bill
Clinton, the outrage of voters over the disgrace of the city by departments dubbed ‘RICO
operations, and over million dollars out of his own pocket. Mayor Levine has allegedly retaliated against city employees who spoke against his candidacy. Morales bragged during a meeting that he has fired dozens of workers. Police Chief Raymond Martinez and Assistant Police Chief Mark Overton are out despite effecting needed reforms. However, Santos-
Alborna, who is considered “
untouchable
 by insiders, remains at Compliance despite private calls for his head on a platter. On the other hand, it appears that the current special masters or magistrates who handle code enforcement cases will be beheaded so that the quasi-
 judicial agency will be taken in a “new direction.” The special master facility has no formal independence, as do real courts, and is
considered to be a political arm of the administration, which is, ironically, supposed to be apolitical or businesslike.
 
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 TRUE REFLECTIONS 
 
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Chief Special Master Abe Laeser, who has been informed that a search is being conducted for someone to replace him while a backlog of 400 cases are put on hold, recalled hearing what Halabi believes was a trumped-up charge against him.
Halabi appeared before me on a violation. He really did not have a valid complaint, based upon the evidence. His position was that he was constantly being selected for enforcement, and his neighbors were given a 'pass'. It is hard to resolve such issues at a single hearing, but there may have been a pattern that only the participants can prove.
 Halabi disagrees with Laeser, and is retrieving the records of the
two
hearings in that case for transcription and legal analysis. He insists that his defense was valid; to wit, that placing two fans under the awning in his permitted space to temporarily protect them from a downpour is not specifically prohibited by the code. That charge was trumped up in specific response to an anonymous complaint he made. He emailed a copy of the anonymous complaint to compliance administrators and Commissioner Jerry Libbin. One of them passed the information along to a compliance officer who then informed the violator. The compliance officer excused the fact that he had fingered Halabi, stating that, after all, the email about the anonymous complaint was public record. That behavior is standard operating procedure although there is no reason whatsoever that even known informants should be identified except that compliance officers are afraid to take responsibility for their work and feel a need to blame someone else for doing their jobs, the tacit agreement with favored violators being that no citations will be issued unless someone complains. Halabi requested a rehearing based on
Laeser’s mistaken finding and on new evidence he wanted to bring forward, but his request was denied by Laeser’s clerk.
Instead of providing his attorney with a $5,000 retainer to appeal the $250 fine to circuit court at a total cost that might exceed $10,000, and even $100,000 if he had to appeal a circuit court decision, Halabi decided to conserve those funds to bring a broader suit if need be. Indeed, Halabi promises to be a fly in the unctuous public relations ointment. Morales finally met with him after refusing to do so for some time. Cardeno attended the meeting. A promise was made that compliance officers would enforce the sidewalk café code along Espanola Way
three times each week. That remains to be seen. However, an enraged man harassed Halabi’
s wife in front of the Flame, accusing Halabi of costing him money by not allowing him to set out his illegal tables; in other words, he was angry because he could no longer steal business due to law abiding businesses. And one of the worst violators was seen measuring the public right away in order to draw up plans to revise its permit, to include the chairs and tables set out illegally for two years. No doubt the city will bend over backwards to permit it now that Halabi has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

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