Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez turned himself in Tuesday to face criminal charges, as an arrest warrant reveals he is accused of accepting $15,000 in exchange for funding a law five years ago to help a shopping plaza he had repeatedly slapped with fines for code violations .
Martinez, 64, is charged with unlawful compensation and conspiracy to commit illegal compensation.
The commissioner, who faces possible suspension from office by Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis, has already maintained his innocence, criticizing prosecutors and calling the case “politically motivated.” Miami-Dade District Attorney Kathryn Fernandez Randle is scheduled to detail the charges at a news conference at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Martinez, a former Miami-Dade police lieutenant, is considering a possible term as county sheriff, an office up for grabs in 2024. He held the District 11 commission seat, representing a large area of West Miami-Dade, between 2000 and 2012. and was re-elected in August 2016.
In a statement Monday, Martinez claimed the “false allegations” arose out of his work as a consultant when he was “private” and not a public official. The arrest warrant, however, details what investigators say were Martinez’s efforts “using his official position and using his office” to help pass legislation that would benefit the plaza and supermarket owner he viewed as its principal tenant.
The legislation ultimately never passed and did not end up being considered by the county commission. But under Florida’s malpractice law, prosecutors don’t have to prove that the public official’s “exercise of influence” for illegal pay was actually “achieved,” only that it was attempted.
The case, led by the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General and the State Attorney’s Office, was pieced together through emails, text messages and financial and phone records.
Pay to play?
It was about two weeks after he won his last election, prosecutors say, that Martinez was paid $5,000 by Jorge Negrin, the owner of Extra Supermarket, which is located on the shopping plaza in the 12800 block of Southwest Eighth Street. The shopping plaza is owned by Calle Ocho Properties LLC, which is owned by a businessman named Sergio Delgado.
According to the arrest warrant, the plaza and supermarket had been repeatedly fined by the Miami-Dade County Code Enforcement office for six cargo containers — used to store inventory — kept in the back of the property. According to county code, the property couldn’t have that many dumpsters on site.
Then in December, Martinez received another $5,000 check from Negrin, the warrant said.
On February 27, 2017 Delgado emailed Negrin and Martinez — the commissioner’s private email — asking for help with the container violations. A few days later, Martinez texted Delgado saying, “It’s about the container, rest assured we’re working on it.” By then, Martinez had sent his chief of staff, Ana Bustamante, to deal with the issue of code enforcement.
On March 17, he introduced commissioner-sponsored legislation that would allow more cargo containers on certain properties. Eight days later came the third and final $5,000 check from Negrin.
Prosecutors also allege that throughout the summer, Martinez was hurt financially and his employer, Centurion Security, was unable to make payroll. That’s when he asked Delgado — who had contacts with Ocean Bank — to talk to bank officials about helping Centurion get a loan. The two began exchanging text messages about the loan, as well as mall legislation, the warrant said.
By Aug. 19, the emails show, Martinez asked his chief of staff why the legislation was taking so long. Three days later, it entered the committee’s agenda.
But mysteriously, on August 23rd, Martinez called for the legislation to go into effect. That same day, he had a 6-minute, 42-second phone call with Delgado.
The Office of the Inspector General took up the matter almost immediately. By October, Martinez agreed to speak with agents and, according to the warrant, “did not recall the reason for the check” from the plaza and described them as loansharks. He also claimed that he did not remember who Delgado was. That day, after leaving the interview, Martinez immediately called Negrin, speaking to him for two minutes and 33 seconds, according to the warrant, phone records show.
Just two years later, in November 2019, Martinez agreed to a second interview with agents and prosecutors. He claimed he forgot he actually knew Delgado and said describing the payments as “loans” was a “poor choice of words,” according to the warrant.