After weeks of swirling rumors, the embattled mayor of North Miami admitted to NBC Miami that he quietly had a camera installed in his city hall office.
But his insistence that it was not a "hidden" camera is being contradicted by city invoices, memos and payments - igniting a legal and ethical debate.
Mayor Andre Pierre believed someone was stealing things in his office. So he says he had one security camera mounted on the wall, something he said was plainly visible.
An invoice describes the equipment as two cameras concealed in a smoke detector. And there are questions about who paid the $8,285 bill.
"Very sneaky,” says Carol Keys, his opponent in the May 10 election. “Who puts hidden cameras in your office?"
The July invoice charges the city $2,735 for equipment and labor. But a second invoice on the project charges the city $3,200 for "professional services rendered." The vendor is a North Miami police officer, James Mesidor, who billed the city as the owner of MEZ Security Services. Keys believes a time sheet suggests Mesidor may’ve installed the system on police time. It is illegal for a city employee to do business with the city. Mesidor could not be reached for comment.
"I think it's a lack of transparency. I think it's illegal. I think it's fraud," says Keys.
It's unclear whether it's illegal to have hidden cameras in a mayor's office. But there's a chorus of criticism saying Mayor Pierre has no authority to spend the city's money without approval, or to use money from the heavily restricted Law Enforcement Trust fund.
"This money should go to the police officers, not the hidden cameras in the mayor's office," says Keys.
Pierre’s campaign manager and cousin was arrested last month and charged with bribery for accepting cash after allegedly arranging for a key vote to be removed from the city commission agenda. Commissioner Scott Galvin, who was secretly helping investigators, said he helped arrange the sting on Pierre’s campaign manager. Mayor Pierre’s campaign reports includes donations from the same person who bribed the campaign manager.
Despite widespread speculation, Mayor Pierre says he is not under investigation for the hidden camera incident or the bribery case.
“I don't believe so,” he says. “I did nothing wrong."
Several city hall sources say FDLE investigators were back at North Miami City Hall last week talking to, among others, purchasing and finance supervisors.
But not Mayor Pierre.
“No,” he said when asked whether FDLE, FBI or state attorney investigators have spoken to him. “No conversation at all."
One key question remains unanswered. Was Mayor Pierre’s plan to install hidden cameras in the offices of other city officials -- including city commissioners -- without their knowledge and without any legal authority to do so, as his critics allege?
The hidden camera invoice from MEZ Security Services was initially withdrawn but was approved when it came back under a different name, KHI Technologies, ballooning inexplicably to $8,285.
Published at 8:13 AM EDT on May 3, 2011