Friday, November 25, 2011

S. Fla. Mayor Quits Post, Gets Free Pass Out Of Criminal Homestead Exemption Fraud Charges As State Attorney Punts On Moving Forward With Prosecution

In Miami, Florida, The Miami Herald reports:

  • Miami-Dade prosecutors opted not to charge North Bay Village’s former mayor, Corina Esquijarosa, with shirking on property taxes, and activists the tiny town say they are outraged.

  • But prosecutors rarely ever bring “homestead exemption” fraud cases against citizens, instead allowing the county’s property appraiser’s office to go after them with the ultimate goal of repaying the money owed to government coffers.

  • It would be an inconsistent application of our practice in similar cases to treat Ms. Esquijarosa different from other private citizens in similar circumstances,” Assistant State Attorney Tim VanderGiesen wrote in a final memo released Tuesday.(1)

  • Esquijarosa resigned Friday, avoiding prosecution for the homestead exemption fraud, an issue that dogged from her since the start of her troubled one-year tenure as the city’s mayor. A recall election, spurred by the very activists who uncovered the homestead exemption issue, had been imminent.

  • I understand a lot of people do this. I know it’s flagrant,” activist Al Blake, leader of the recall effort, said about homestead exemption fraud. “We understand that. But she’s an elected official and she’s got to be held to a higher standard.”

  • Florida property owners get a $50,000 tax break if they live in the home. More than 400,000 properties in Miami-Dade receive homestead exemptions, Miami-Dade Deputy Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis said Tuesday. The office employs seven full-time investigators and was recently loaned four Miami-Dade economic crimes detectives to ferret out fraud.

  • Giving false information in applying for the exemption is a misdemeanor and most cases — in which criminal intent is difficult to prove, and dollar amounts are not staggering — are handled administratively.

  • With Miami-Dade County facing a massive budget shortfall, homestead exemption cheating has become a hot-button issue in recent months. Earlier this fall, Miami-Dade’s police union — facing $74 million in cuts during contract negotiations — complained that the county wasn’t collecting on “rampant” homestead exemption cheats.

  • Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro J. Garcia shot back, saying enforcement efforts has been stepped up.


  • According to VanderGiesen’s memo, prosecutors also took into consideration that the fraud “did not relate to her role as a public official” and occurred “prior to her becoming the mayor of North Bay Village.”

  • The county’s property appraiser’s office has filed a lein [sic] on the more than $3,000 she owed in back taxes and penalties, while the county’s ethics commission fined her $500 for not disclosing her rental income and mortgage.

  • The primary purpose of a formal criminal case would be to get her to pay back the money she owes,” VanderGiesen wrote. “Such a resolution is already being accomplished by the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser without the expense of additional criminal litigation.”

For the story, see North Bay Village mayor avoids charges in crime rarely charged in Miami-Dade (Prosecutors say homestead exemption fraud is usually left to the county property appraiser’s office to handle).

Go here and go here for Miami-Dade Inspector General press releases for two examples where alleged homestead exemption fraudsters were criminally charged with grand theft in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

No comments: