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July 30, 2007

Misconduct in Miami

A year after publishing revelations of widespread corruption at the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, the MIAMI HERALD reported similar problems at the city of Miami’s own agency last month in House of Lies 2: Miami’s Crisis. Reporters Debbie Cenziper, Oscar Corral, and Larry Lebowitz pored through city records to uncover more than $10 million in outstanding loans to developers for public housing projects that were never completed—or in some cases, even started. The city also failed to learn from its mistakes, continuing to grant lucrative loans and contracts to local developers with track records of delays and incomplete work. Some of the allegations struck close to Miami’s political power elite: one of the largest outstanding loans was $700,000 granted to Alberto Lorenzo, Mayor Manny A. Diaz’s campaign manager.

But the most egregious cases of corruption were within Miami housing director Barbara Gomez’s own family. Gomez—already reeling from the scandals entangling ex-husband Rene Rodriguez , longtime director of the county housing agency—approved loans to local non-profits employing both another ex-husband, Ruben A. Santana, and their son, Ruben A. Santana, Jr. The agency went forward with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of loans, even though the federal department of Housing and Urban Development ruled that the blood connection represented a conflict of interest.

Soon after the articles were published last month, the HERALD reported that Gomez was being forced out of the head position. On July 12, Gomez, director of the Community Development Department since 2003, was fired after she failed to accept a demotion.

July 25, 2007

Web premiere: "Money for Nothing"

A housing agency with a nationally lauded leader. A property tax passed by voters to fund new affordable housing. A city pockmarked with empty lots. Debbie Cenziper could tell that something was not right in Miami-Dade County as she drove past empty lots on her way to work. The MIAMI HERALD investigative reporter was determined to figure out what was preventing construction of new affordable homes, which should have been funded by Miami’s innovative surtax.

What she found went far beyond the normal bureaucratic gridlock that residents of one of America’s most expensive cities had grown used to. When Cenziper began to examine the financial records of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency she found widespread abuses that drained the agency’s hard-earned tax revenue without delivering the promised housing. Mounting construction delays, mismanagement, and poor oversight of projects led to a waiting list that reached 40,000 people -- including Miamians like Ozie Porter, whose anger at the housing agency was matched only by her desire for a home of her own.

This week on EXPOSÉ, how Cenziper exposed the corruption at the heart of the system, writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning series that led to criminal indictments and Miami-Dade housing reforms.

>> Read THE MIAMI HERALD's original reporting, "House of Lies", and check out the additional multimedia features. Visit the MIAMI HERALD site for continuing coverage in this series.