Feds Embarrassed By Mayor's Anti-Corruption Unit

The U.S. Attorney's office says the Mayor's anti-corruption squad is too political, and the State's Attorney says the unit is bringing some charges without evidence.

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    MIAMI - NOVEMBER 02: City of Miami mayoral candidate Tomas Regalado does last minute campaigning before voters head to the polls tomorrow on election day on November 2, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Regalado is squaring off against fellow city commissioner Joe Sanchez to become mayor of the city. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tomas Regalado

    You've really got to hand it to Miami, whose dedication to questionable politics the State of Florida and the U.S. Attorneys office say extends even to a newly-formed police unit dedicated to rooting out corruption.

    Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Miguel Exposito created the squad just months ago, but its work has already come under fire for focusing on officials hired by Regalado's political foe, former mayor Manny Diaz -- and has already been on the receiving end of a rare smackdown from the U.S. Attorney's office.

    The unit, its detractors say, brought corruption charges against several non-profit workers despite the state attorney's determination that no evidence existed in the case, and failed to inform the U.S. Attorney that the state was unwilling to press charges in exactly half of the eight arrests announced at a recent press conference.

    It was at that press conference where the showing of a police officer's photograph violated the Federal Privacy Act in the presence of an attending FBI representative -- an official who, according to the U.S. Attorney's office, they became embarrassed to have sent once the event turned political.

    That episode earned the mayor's office and police a pointed e-mail last week from "very dissatisfied" special counsel to the U.S. Attorney, Alicia Valle.

    "When this Office, or the FBI, start participating in local politically motivated events, or events that can be perceived as political," Valle wrote in the e-mail, obtained by the Miami Herald, "then we run the risk of losing credibility and the perception of independence...

    "Needless to say, this affects our standing in the community and our ability to bring future public corruption cases."

    Hmm...an anti-corruption squad compromising future corruption cases? That sounds bad.

    The unit has also come under fire for promoting small arrests as big to-dos and for announcing the firings of city department heads, as well as an embarassing episode in which it investigated whether or not Diaz stole a bicycle that was purchased for him as a gift by staff who took up a collection.

    But Regalado says it's all part of his efforts to root out corruption in the city government, no matter how large or small.

    "We wanted to send a message about public corruption, and the message was very clear," he said.