Miami-Dade Sheriff candidates call for public corruption unit to investigate government officials

Barow Knapp
The head of the county’s ethics commission thinks it’s a good idea.

As several politicians in Miami-Dade face scrutiny for wrongdoing, two candidates for Sheriff are independently calling for the creation of a public corruption unit to investigate potentially unscrupulous officials.

Democratic Miami-Dade Police Major John Barrow and retired Major Mario Knapp, a Republican who led post-incident operations after the Surfside condo collapse, agree that local law enforcement needs to better confront abuses of government power.

And the head of Miami-Dade’s ethics agency believes such a unit would benefit the county.

In a press note, Barrow said he plans to establish a unit on Day 1 to “root out corruption and help restore residents’ faith in their elected leaders and local government.”

The 18-year Miami-Dade Police veteran envisions the unit as “consisting of seasoned investigators and attorneys from the department’s legal staff,” who will “work hand-in-glove with the State Attorney’s Office on their corruption investigations.”

“(We) will ask both the (State Attorney’s Office) and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics to work with our legal advisors and officers to develop additional ethics training and protocols,” he said in a Monday statement.

“Being responsible for the public safety of Miami-Dade doesn’t just mean keeping crime off the streets. It means keeping crime out of local government, protecting our tax dollars and honoring the public’s trust — that is what this county deserves, and as the leader of a newly independent (Miami-Dade Sheriff’s Office), that is what I intend to do as Sheriff.”

Knapp, who left the county police force after nearly three decades of service, told Florida Politics earlier this month about his plans to create an independent public corruption unit.

He envisions a far-reaching operation capable of conducting internal affairs probes of local law enforcement and investigations of county and city officials and employees.

“If there is an allegation that someone is corrupt,” he said, “then there needs to be an independent vehicle ready to investigate.”

“Everyone is tired of these politicians whose names we’ve known for the last 20, 30 years, and they’re in and out of the circuit from city to city, and yet there’s all kinds of allegations against them and no one to investigate. Miami-Dade residents deserve to know there’s a unit willing and able to do that and let the cards fall where they are.”

Knapp said that while the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (COE) today is tasked with investigating complaints against officials, its budgetary dependence on the County Commission concerns some residents.

Of note, the County Commission will also set the budget for the Sheriff’s Office, which is returning to Miami-Dade after decades following a 2018 referendum. However, legislation that state lawmakers are close to passing would then enable the Sheriff to move funds between “functional categories” within their purview.

“At the end of the day, (the COE) is overseen by politicians, which lends itself to the idea that there’s going to be influence there,” Knapp said. “What I’m hearing in my direct conversation with residents is that they want to know that if an allegation is being investigated, it’s independent of any influence.”

In the past two years, a multitude of current and former elected officials in Miami-Dade have come under investigation for allegedly misusing their public power for personal gain. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez faces state and federal probes into alleged pay-to-play schemes. Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo in June lost a $63.5 million lawsuit over his harassment of business owners in his district.

Gov. Ron DeSantis removed former Miami Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla from office after his arrest on a host of corruption charges. Another former Miami Commissioner, Sabina Covo, is under investigation for bribery.

Former Miami-Dade School Board member Lubby Navarro is facing charges of stealing $100,000 from her district. Ex-Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez, a former police officer and a favorite for the Sheriff job, who is going to trial this year to defend himself against felony charges of unlawfully accepted compensation. DeSantis suspended him in September 2022.

Last year, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed there was a corruption investigation into drug smuggling in the county prison system. Questions of potential impropriety have also been raised about overseas trips Levine Cava has taken in her official capacity as Mayor that her campaign manager took at the same time.

There are more. And according to COE Executive Director Jose Arrojo, a public corruption unit would be a boon to his agency’s efforts to hold officials accountable.

“I would welcome the establishment of a Public Corruption Unit in the Sheriff’s Office dedicated to addressing malfeasance by elected officials,” he told Florida Politics by email. “Also, in my opinion, and based on my experience as a prosecutor and ethics compliance officer, I would think that local, state, and federal inspectors general, auditors, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors would also be supportive of the proposal.”

Arrojo said that in Miami-Dade, the COE benefits from partnerships and combining resources. Ideally, a new public corruption unit would add to the resources available and act as a multiplier for accountability efforts.

Any conflicts over jurisdiction, he said, would likely be settled swiftly and cordially.

“To the extent that some persons might have an issue with a Sheriff’s Office straying into matters that are not clearly ‘criminal’ and may rather constitute ethical misconduct, I am confident that in collaboration with my agency and the other agencies … that a satisfactory investigation and referral methodology could be established,” he said.

“We kind of do that already, inasmuch as allegations of misconduct by elected officials might currently be referred to the Ethics Commission, the County Inspector General, Miami Beach Inspector General, the Miami-Dade Police Department or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. We manage to figure out which agency should take the lead or what resources to combine.”

Seventeen people are running to be Miami-Dade’s first elected Sheriff since 1966. Of them, Miami-Dade Assistant Police Director Rosie Cordero-Stutz, police officer-turned-private investigator Jeffrey Giordano, retired Miami-Dade sergeant and police union President John Rivera — all Republicans — and Democratic former Miami-Dade Police Lt. Rickey Mitchell include addressing public corruption as a platform priority.

The Primary Election is on Aug. 20, followed by the General Election on Nov. 5.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Dont Say FLA

    February 29, 2024 at 11:57 am

    Miami-Dade Sheriff candidates apparently have some friends with whom they’d like to share their job perks should they win the job they seek

    • Elizabeth

      February 29, 2024 at 5:26 pm

      Drugs found in County’s Jail system. WHO was the Director? Did this happen under sheriff Candidate James Reyes?

  • South Florida Hot Mess

    March 2, 2024 at 8:51 pm

    Can’t blame this mess on New Yorkers 🖕🏼

Comments are closed.


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