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March 10, 2016
One hour after Opa-locka’s government opened for business on March 10, 2016, dozens of F.B.I. agents descended on City Hall to question the mayor and other local officials as they carried out a search warrant in a corruption probe zeroing in on suspected kickback schemes.
Agents carted away hundreds of boxes containing official records, computers and other evidence. And they set city employees on edge after scouring the four-story building, including the offices of the mayor, city manager, public works director and information technology director.
They also entered the police detective offices at City Hall and ordered all of the detectives into the hallway area during the search.
No arrests were made, according to FBI special agent Mike Leverock.
A group of residents gathered outside City Hall as federal agents stood guard at the entrance, praising the feds for blowing the lid off Opa-locka’s government. “They’re going down,” the crowd shouted.
“It's time for them to take back Opa-locka,” said longtime resident and community activist Chris Roberts . “It's just the beginning. They got to clean house.”
“Yeah, baby! Yeah, baby! Shut it down,” said Alvin Burke. “They have been hurting the city for years. Now I feel like the citizens in this city will finally get some justice.”
Lupe Rivera, a state employee who works across from City Hall, said the scene looked “like a movie,” as she pointed out the TV news helicopter flying above the area. “I've never seen so many FBI agents.”
The FBI’s Leverock said the search warrant was carried out by the agency’s Miami Area Corruption Task Force, which includes investigators from the Miami Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies. He also said the probable cause for the warrant would not be disclosed.
The FBI’s search at City Hall, follows a two-year investigation into allegations of kickback schemes between government contractors and public officials in Opa-locka, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the case. The crackdown comes at a time when Opa-locka, one of Miami-Dade County’s poorest cities, has been struggling with a financial crisis stemming from millions of dollars in uncollected revenue and mismanagement. The city commission hired the law firm Genovese Joblove &Battista to assist in restructuring Opa-locka’s debt.
The evidence gathered at City Hall, will now be evaluated by FBI agents to firm up the strongest parts of their corruption case.
It is also possible that the shock-and-awe effect of the raid might compel certain witnesses and suspects to come forward and begin to cooperate with the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office before arrests are made in the future.
In recent months, the Miami Herald has reported on allegations that Mayor Myra Taylor, and her husband, John Taylor, who is a minister, pressured former City Manager Steve Shiver for money to support the husband’s interest in buying a church in Miami Gardens.
The Herald also reported that Shiver accused a sewer project contractor of trying to shake him down to pay a large outstanding bill in an alleged scheme to divert $150,000 to the mayor and her husband for the church venture.
The contractor, George Howard, had previously accused Shiver of soliciting the bribe from him to pay off the mayor.