A commissioner from one of the most corrupt municipalities in Miami-Dade County tried to use her political muscle to sic the cops on a local television reporter who was digging for more dirt on the scandal-plagued city.
Sweetwater commissioner Isabel Maroño was not going to let an ongoing federal investigation that has already led to the conviction of the city’s mayor – who also happens to be her son – keep her from trying to intimidate a reporter for making inquiries that could possibly lead to more arrests.
But her plan backfired when the local cops not only refused to investigate Erika Carrillo from the Spanish-language station, America Teve, but the complaint led to further inquiries from a reporter from El Nuevo Herald, prompting the commissioner to say the following:
“I’m not interested in speaking to you. I don’t know how you dare call me.”
This is a woman who has been quoted in the past as saying, “You either off the press or pay off the press.”
Not to be deterred by the police disinterest in her complaint, Maroño and another commissioner, a former cop named Catalino Rodriguez, visited America Teve to try to get them to kill the story; which involved Carrillo attempting to interview department head Jennifer Muñoz-Maroño, who is also la Madrina’s daughter-in-law.
Rodriguez was a Sweetwater cop until last year when a commission seat became available after its predecessor had to take over the mayoral position in the wake of his arrest, so it’s probably only a matter of time when he becomes mayor.
A small city wedged in the northeast corner of Southwest Eighth Street and Florida’s Turnpike, Sweetwater’s claim to fame is that it was founded by Russian circus midgets 72 years ago.
But by the 1980s, Sweetwater gained a reputation as a corruption capital. Cops were investigated for beating up citizens. One officer went on a murder-robbery spree. And four city commissioners and the mayor were found guilty in a federal extortion scheme.
This year, Mayor Manny Maroño upheld the city’s sad tradition when he was indicted in an FBI grant-fraud sting.
Federal agents and the press then set about untangling the web of corruption in Sweetwater.
There’s a towing company, linked to Maroño, that financially preyed on some citizens and led to the questionable seizure of a Porsche Panamera.
Investigators are trying to track down missing police evidence — including cash — and have uncovered a secret evidence room that dirty cops might have used as a gift store for loved ones. Three officers are under investigation for police brutality and doctoring investigative records.
Even a police horse — a handsome black Percheron named Maverick bought by city taxpayers — made a corruption cameo. Maverick mysteriously ended up at the Homestead ranch of a former Sweetwater police lieutenant.
“It was a like a criminal enterprise,” Deborah Centeno, a twice-failed candidate for city commission, said.
Maroño’s mother, City Commissioner Isolina Maroño, showed off a mobster’s mouth when she threatened an El Nuevo Herald reporter who helped expose her son’s shenanigans.
“There’s a saying in Cuba,” Isolina Maroño said. “You either off the press or pay off the press.”
“In this country there is freedom of expression and of the press and, though officials may not be comfortable with the information we run, our job is to present a balanced report,” she said. “For six weeks I filed public information requests and all the information I reported is based on Sweetwater documents and emails with responses that the city gave me.”
In Carrillo’s report on Thursday, she revealed that the organization the Alliance for Aging, with which Sweetwater has three contracts for services to the elderly, had begun an investigation into the use of the funds to purchase two 2014 Chevrolet Tahoe trucks for the use of employees of other departments.
The money for the purchase of the vehicles came from a fund that cannot be used for that purpose, according to the investigation.
One of the trucks was assigned to Johanna Rubio Muñiz, director of human resources. Muñiz is also the godmother of a child of Jennifer and Manny Maroño’s.
While this doesn’t have to do with the right to record, it has everything to do with government transparency. And it has to do with an American-elected official acting as if she is still in Cuba.
So let’s send her a wake-up call to remind her what country she is living in. And we’ll probably do the same in person next time Joel Chandler and Jeff Gray are in town.
UPDATE: Elaine Del Valle, who is also a former Miami Herald reporter, published her home number as well as her cell phone number.
call Commissioner Maroño at 305-485-4524 or at her personal number, 305-226-8575 (I think that’s her home number) or at 305-794-4646, which I believe is her cellphone,