Homestead mayor arrested on public corruption charges

Steven Bateman arrested at his home

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - The mayor of Homestead was hauled away from his home Wednesday in handcuffs on corruption charges, including accepting illegal compensation, becoming the third mayor of a Miami-Dade County city to be arrested in the past month.

Steve Bateman, 58, was secretly being paid $125 an hour as a consultant by a health care company seeking city and county approval for a sewer connection so it could build a clinic in Homestead, said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

Bateman lobbied his own city officials and County Mayor Carlos Gimenez without disclosing his financial arrangement with Community Health Care of South Florida Inc., a non-profit firm known as CHI, said Fernandez Rundle.

"It's another very sad day for the people of Miami-Dade County," Fernandez Rundle told reporters. "At no time did Bateman disclose that these contacts were done for a private employer. That should have been done."

Read: Arrest warrant

All told, Bateman was paid $3,625 by CHI for his work, although the company had authorized as much as $120,000 in payments for a year of work, according to an arrest affidavit. Bateman, who was jailed on $21,500 bail, is charged with two felonies for accepting illegal compensation as well as several misdemeanors, including unregistered lobbying.

"We believe that enriching oneself by using the power and the prestige of an elected, public office not only enrages the community, but [also] -- more importantly and fundamentally -- it violates the law," said Fernandez Rundle.

Bateman's attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

"Although there has been a lot of talk about it happening, it's still unexpected because you never know what's going to happen," said Homestead Vice Mayor Jon Burgess. "We had a cancer in house. We've taken care of it. We're cooperating fully with the State Attorney's office. The team here has done magnificent things. As we move forward, I have full confidence that we will cooperate fully with anybody that asks and that the team here will move the city into a better spot now that we've been rid of what I consider a cancer."

Bateman was first elected mayor of Homestead in 2009 and re-elected in 2011. He is seeking re-election again this year, but Gov. Rick Scott suspended Bateman from office Wednesday afternoon.

"I join all Floridians in profound disappointment that another elected official has been arrested and accused of violating the public's trust," said Scott. "Elected officials that break the law must be prosecuted to its fullest extent. All elected officials must be held to the highest ethical standard."

Earlier this month, Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono, along with two lobbyists, were arrested on federal corruption charges in an FBI sting operation. Authorities say Pizzi and Marono accepted thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for supporting applications for federal grants that were never to be used for their intended purposes. Pizzi and Marono, who have been suspended from office, insist they are innocent.

Those arrests followed tax evasion charges in May against former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife, Raizi, who are accused of failing to report income on high-interest loans and other business interests. The couple have also said they are innocent. Robaina once unsuccessfully ran for Miami-Dade mayor, the county's top elected post.

The Bateman case centered a plan by CHI to build a Children's Crisis Center in Homestead, which was being delayed by the company's inability to get a county sewer connection. That connection depended on construction of a new Homestead pump station, which in turn was stalled by concerns about its design and capacity by county officials.

Bateman was hired by CHI in February 2013 in an attempt to get the pump project moving, according to the arrest affidavit. He was also hired to oversee other CHI projects in the area. No one at CHI was charged, although Fernandez Rundle said the investigation was continuing.

"Right now, the focus is on the elected official," she said.

Gimenez, the Miami-Dade mayor, said he was never told that Bateman was working for CHI before their February meeting. Visitor logs also show Bateman listed only "city of Homestead" as the organization he represented at that meeting.

"He comes to me as the mayor of Homestead, he doesn't come to me as a lobbyist from Homestead," Gimenez said in a sworn statement to investigators.

The president and chief executive officer at CHI, Brodes Hartley Jr., told investigators in a sworn statement he knew Bateman would represent his firm in these meetings and that Batemen never indicated there could be a conflict of interest.

"I didn't try to stop him if that's the question," Hartley said in the statement.

A representative of CHI offered no comment on the allegations.

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