Case dismissed: End of road for Spence-Jones

Judge: Allegations are full of political intrigue

Miami Times staff report | 12/25/2013, 9 a.m.
Despite defeating two high-profile corruption charges, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones found herself at the losing end of a racketeering-conspiracy ...

Despite defeating two high-profile corruption charges, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones found herself at the losing end of a racketeering-conspiracy suit against the state attorney, mayor and senior prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks rejected her complaint, calling her “disgruntled” and demanding an investigation into her attempt to settle political scores.

While she fought the charges, Spence-Jones spent 21 months suspended out of office during her second term.

Her claim accused Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, and two of Fernández Rundle’s assistants, Richard Scruggs and Robert Fielder, of conspiring to push her out of office. She alleged that the prosecution ignored and fabricated evidence while misleading witnesses Barbara Carey-Schuler and Armando Codina to support a pair of felony corruption cases against her.

She also accused Regalado, a political opponent, of conspiring to remove her from office so he could assign an ally.

In Middlebrooks’ 64-page ruling, he brushed off Spence-Jones’ allegations as a “political manifesto” that was “full of political intrigue” and “self-serving hyperbole, personal attacks and formulaic, implausible conclusions.”

Former legal troubles

Despite prosecutors arguing she used an impending commission vote to pressure developer Codina into donating to a nonprofit she ran and controlled from her office in 2006, she was acquitted at trial of soliciting the $25,000 bribe. During the trial, Codina testified that Scruggs had misled him during the initial investigation into thinking he had contributed to a sham charity and maintained he did not expect anything in return for his donation.

The judge dropped her case centering around $75,000 in grants from the Miami-Dade Action Plan Trust, a group that awards money to community groups.

Spence-Jones’ mentor and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Carey-Schuler, initially told prosecutors that she never wrote a letter deflecting $50,000 in county grants to a company run by the two-term city commissioner’s family. But after one of Spence-Jones’ attorneys found an incomplete letter that included Carey-Schuler’s handwritten notes, Carey-Schuler conceded she may have written the message.

Attorneys representing the four defendants argued that Spence-Jones lacked evidence to prove a conspiracy, and that prosecutors misleading or threatening a witness doesn’t amount to conspiring to remove a commissioner from office.

Middlebrooks agreed with them.

“The fact that the Mayor, or anyone else interested in Miami politics, might predict legal problems for Commissioner Spence-Jones, or even opine, incorrectly as it turns out, that she might go to jail does not point to involvement in a conspiracy,” he wrote.

Spence-Jones declined to comment, but her attorney, Ilann M. Maazel released a statement that read, “We disagree with the Court’s opinion. We firmly believe Michelle Spence-Jones was wronged by these defendants. She deserves her day in court before a jury of her peers.”

Regalado applauded the judge for sending “a strong message that you can’t just accuse people with lies.”

“It’s a great Christmas gift,” he said. “I feel vindicated.”