North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre may not have ever taken a cash bribe, but his office was no stranger to the illicit offers, his campaign manager was recorded saying.
Miami-Dade prosecutors released video Monday that shows Pierre's nephew and campaign manager, Richard Brutus, taking cash bribes and telling a North Miami businessman that Pierre knows what he was doing.
"What about the mayor?" asks North Miami businessman Shlomo Chelminsky in the hidden video recorded Jan. 26 by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office public corruption unit. "He knew about this?"
"Of course! Of course," Brutus replied.
Brutus was arrested in March on bribery charges for taking $4,000 in cash from Chelminsky, who became a law enforcement informant or "cooperating defendant" to expose potential corruption in the city.
Pierre, who was re-elected in May, has not been implicated by authorities. He did not show up for the weekly council meeting Tuesday night. A city spokesperson said Pierre did not alert the council he would not be there and that he was out of town, but no one knew exactly where.
For now, the corruption allegations have been limited to Brutus, who is shown on camera taking $3,500 allegedly for North Miami council members’ favorable votes on a garbage privatization issue, and another $500 for himself.
Brutus also talks about North Miami Councilwoman Marie Steril and possibly giving her some of the cash. On Tuesday, Steril denied ever taking a bribe or receiving money from Brutus.
"You know? So this time I want to give you another 500 bucks," Chelminsky said to Brutus in the secretly recorded meeting. "That's why I didn't put it in the other envelope because the other envelope's gotta go to Marie, you know, and probably the Mayor."
"Are you going to give some of this to her? Or...?" he asks.
Brutus: "I gotta take care of everybody that I called and, you know..."
Chelminsky: "Who's 'everybody'? Her and the mayor, no?"
Chelminsky: "There's more?"
Brutus: "Yeah, but that's why I said, that's fine. The people that I take care of."
When asked Tuesday why Brutus and Chelminsky mentioned her, Steril said, "I wonder the same thing."
Despite Pierre's allegedly knowing about the bribes, Brutus contends his uncle never takes money himself. But that doesn't mean Pierre wasn't offered loads of cash in his office by people wanting to do business with the city, Brutus said.
Here’s one exchange between Chelminsky and Brutus:
Chelminsky: "If we want to give the mayor, for example, something like that - cash - how do we do that?
Brutus: "But the mayor's not going to take money."
Chelminsky: "No, but through you."
Brutus: "But, if it's through me, it's for him. And he's not going to take any money. That's the thing. The mayor doesn't take money. So as long as we are doing something that's going to benefit the city, he's all for it. But if it's for money? Do you know how many times people have walked into that office with big brown bags of money in front of him? Do you know how many times?"
Chelminsky: "No, I don't."
Brutus: "Too many times."
Brutus: "Big. I've seen it personally with big hundred dollar bills!"
Weeks before the secret video, Chelminsky was caught attempting a bribe, but then agreed with prosecutors to offer bribes to others like Brutus on camera. He could be heard, presumably coached by law enforcement, steering the conversation so that Brutus would implicate others by name.
Brutus was recorded saying that although Pierre doesn't take cash, the mayor was setting up to do some consulting work once his term was up.
Brutus: "The mayor - I never give him money."
Chelminsky: "Oh, you don't?"
Brutus: "Never. Ever."
Brutus: "After he's done with his terms, then he'll probably be making money as a consultant."
The recently released video is just one of several bribery conversations, said North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin, who alerted the State Attorney's Office of potential corruption in his city.
"Yes, it's a great relief to see the video coming out," he said, "because it's starting to give residents some insight into the bigger picture things that I've been aware of now for six or seven months."