Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Former North Miami Beach Commissioner pleads guilty to bribery and money laundering

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A former North Miami Beach city commissioner pleaded guilty on Tuesday to multiple counts of money laundering, grand theft, and bribery, two years after his arrest in a scheme involving taxpayer money, a charity, and a strip club.

Frantz Pierre, who was suspended from the North Miami Beach City Commission in July 2018, will serve two years of house arrest followed by four years of probation, according to a plea agreement obtained by New Times.

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Pierre pleaded guilty to seven felony counts of money laundering, one count of bribery, one count of unlawful compensation for official behavior, one count of organized scheme to defraud, and one count of grand theft.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office alleged that Pierre had been accepting bribes from strip club owner Dean Tyler of Dean’s Gold in return for voting in favor of giving the club an extended liquor license.

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According to prosecutors, Pierre received $12,500 from Tyler from December 2013 to September 2014. Pierre even asked the strip-club owner for $7,000 after claiming he’d been in a car accident, according to texts Rundle’s office provided.

Prosecutors also alleged that Pierre had been funneling money through a charity owned by a woman named Jacqueline Alexis. As New Times reported in 2018, prosecutors alleged that Alexis wrote checks to Pierre totaling $5,250 after Pierre put taxpayer money into her charity, Community Hope for Families and Children in Need.

Tyler also gave $9,865 to Alexis’ charity — money prosecutors alleged was funneled to Pierre.

Community Hope for Families and Children in Need has since had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS for failing to file financial reports, according to GuideStar, a database of nonprofit organizations.

As part of his plea agreement, Pierre is not allowed to have any contact with Tyler or Alexis. He is also required to pay $2,000 in restitution to the City of North Miami Beach and $5,000 to the State Attorney’s Office for time spent investigating his case. In addition, Pierre must serve 200 hours of community service with an organization that’s not politically affiliated and pay for the monitoring device he must wear during his house arrest.

Pierre, who has been suspended from the city commission for two years, is required to officially resign from the dais, and he’s barred from seeking elected office during his six-year sentence. He is not allowed to reduce his sentence or file any motions to change the conditions.

Reached by New Times, Pierre’s attorney, Benedict Kuehne, said in a statement that the former commissioner is dealing with medical issues after multiple heart attacks, and that his decision to plead guilty was a result of his deteriorating health.

“His health continues to decline as he fought against the criminal charges. His decision today to accept responsibility for the criminal charges is intended to allow him to work full time on his medical recovery. While he had intended to contest the case, his decision to accept a probation plea agreement was made after considerable discussion with his family who remain concerned about his declining health in this current COVID-19 environment,” Kuehne wrote.

The courts aren’t entirely done with Pierre, however.

In May of 2018, he was found guilty of an ethics violation by the Miami Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust after he threatened to fire a code-compliance officer if she issued citations at his house. Pierre was fined $1,000, and in April 2019, he was sued by the Commission on Ethics for failure to pay his fine. The case is pending, with the next hearing set for February 2021.

Kuehne, who is also Pierre’s lawyer on the civil case, said Pierre cannot pay the $1,000 fine because he is jobless and broke.

In October 2019, the judge in Pierre’s criminal case granted a motion declaring the former commissioner indigent — meaning he’s unable to afford basic necessities. Kuehne said he wants the judge in the civil case to respect the other judge’s decision and see that Pierre cannot pay the fine.

Asked how Pierre will pay the $7,000 to North Miami Beach and the State Attorney’s Office, Kuehne said his client “will do his best to fully repay the funds recognizing that he has no money presently, no job, and all of his effort today and for the future is to regain his health.”

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