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Miami-Dade commissioner charged in corruption case

Posted at 12:02 PM, Aug 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-30 12:02:51-04

MIAMI, Fla. — A Miami-Dade County commissioner who had been eyeing a run for sheriff surrendered Tuesday on corruption charges involving $15,000 in payments from a business owner facing code violations.

Joe Martinez, who has served on the County Commission off and on since 2000, is charged with unlawful compensation and conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation, according to an arrest warrant. Both are third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison each.

Martinez, 64, surrendered at a county jail Tuesday and has already pledged to fight the charges. He is likely to be suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis, although no decision was immediately announced on that.

Martinez is a former police lieutenant who has been considering a run for Miami-Dade sheriff in 2024. That post was created through a voter referendum; Miami-Dade is currently the only Florida county without an elected sheriff.

Investigators say Martinez accepted $15,000 from a supermarket owner who was facing repeated fines for having too many storage units on the property. In exchange for the money, authorities say Martinez pushed legislation that would allow the supermarket and its landlord to legally have their storage containers.

Although that legislation ultimately did not pass, officials say the charges are still permissible. Martinez's attorney, Ben Kuehne, said in a statement that the charges may have political motives intended to derail his possible run for sheriff in 2024.

“For now, Commissioner Martinez makes clear that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and intends to aggressively work to clear his name,” Kuehne said.

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, whose office brought the charges, planned a news conference later Tuesday.

After a 17-year police career, Martinez was elected to the commission in 2000. He gave up the seat in 2012 for an unsuccessful run for county mayor, then failed in a 2014 Republican campaign for Congress. He was elected to rejoin the commission in 2016 and reelected in 2020.