‘Where is the Cavalry?’: How Embattled Commissioner Joe Carollo ‘Defrauded’ Miami to Protect His Seat

‘Where is the Cavalry?’: How Embattled Commissioner Joe Carollo ‘Defrauded’ Miami to Protect His Seat

City of Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo finds himself in yet another legal battle after being found guilty of political abuse and being accused of defrauding Miami

Liv Caputo
Liv Caputo
May 16, 2024

MIAMI, FL—City of Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo very much intends to stop the U.S. Marshals from seizing his $3.2 million home for “defrauding” the city and politically targeting his detractors, even if that means racially gerrymandering district lines and allegedly fraudulently adding his wife’s name to the deed.

But Carollo won’t go quietly.

After embarking on a years-long warpath targeting two Little Havana business owners who supported his political opponent—including creating a “hit list” of their properties, revoking their permits, changing ordinances to stop their business operations, and enlisting the City Manager to stalk their properties at night—Martin Pinilla and Bill Fuller had had enough.

They sued him, and the Judge ruled that Carollo owed them $63.5 million for political abuse and retaliation, which Fuller and Pinilla now argue includes his $3.2 million Coconut Grove home, leading to his latest legal problem.

Carollo, however, is doing everything he can to prevent that, including voting for a redistricted Miami-Dade map—ruled in April to be unconstitutional—placing his home within the district he leads and “fraudulently” attempting to put his wife’s name on the deed in what the plaintiffs say is an attempt to “hide his assets”. 

The 69-year-old Cuban’s complex litany of legal faux passes began in 2017 when he beat opponent Alfie Leon for the District 3 Commissioner seat, despite Leon claiming he broke city laws by not living in the District. 

After a months-long legal battle, the Judge ruled in Carollo’s favor, agreeing that Carollo no longer lived in his out-of-district Coconut Grove home.

So Carollo became District 3 Commissioner, and his grandiose reign of alleged political malpractice began.

Gerrymandering, a "Fraudulent" Transfer, and “Defrauding” Miami

Remember business owners Fuller and Pinilla who supported Leon throughout his candidacy? Carollo certainly did. 

From shutting down their properties to revoking permits to refusing to grant more to allegedly having trial witness and police chief Art Acevedo fired six months after he started the post, Carollo was hell-bent on politically retaliating against his opponent’s supporters.

Fuller and Pinilla filed suit against him in 2018, and as their case appeared more likely to go against the Commissioner, Carollo embarked on other means to seemingly protect his home—the one he swore he no longer lived in—from the impending verdict of guilty.

In 2022, the Commission hired lawyer Miguel DeGrandy as a redistricting consultant. DeGrandy proceeded to draw a boundary specifically scooping Carollo’s Coconut Grove home into District 3—carving up Miami’s oldest neighborhood—because it would “make [Carollo] happy.”

Once the redrawn lines were put into place, Carollo moved back into his Coconut Grove home—which was now within the district he led.

Then, in a last-minute move before the verdict was released, he added his wife’s name to the house deed—a transfer that Fuller and Pinilla’s attorney Jeff Gutchess says is completely fraudulent.

“Carollo tried to sign a quitclaim deed to sign it from solely his ownership to him and his wife…we don’t think it’s valid and it’s obviously an attempt at a fraudulent transfer to hide assets,” Gutchess told The Floridian, adding that on Friday, Carollo will appear before a Magistrate Judge for an evidentiary hearing to see if his house can be seized.

Gutchess explained that if someone claims a homestead, the home is nearly impossible to seize—which is exactly what Carollo has attempted to do even though “He went out of his way to make it clear that he did not have a homestead [on his Coconut Grove home] in 2017,” Gutchess said.

“He abused the process and defrauded a whole city to get these maps redrawn and then voted in favor of the map…when he had a direct financial benefit and did it solely for asset protection.”

Buying Time Over “Egregious” Conduct

In April, a federal judge ruled that the map was unconstitutional and tantamount to racial gerrymandering. The City Commission was presented a settlement agreement by the plaintiffs—the ACLU of Florida and other voting rights groups—and was set to vote on the agreement last week.

“They passed an unconstitutional, racially gerrymandered map that provided Carollo special protection,” Gutchess said. “We’re saying that is egregious conduct and he should not be able to benefit from that by moving back into his house on the eve of the verdict.”

Carollo, however, led the charge to delay voting on the settlement until the Committee’s next meeting on May 23rd—a week after his evidentiary hearing involving his home.

Why delay? Because the agreement moves Carollo’s Coconut Grove home out of District 3. This means that if he went into the Friday hearing with the new district lines already decided, it may strengthen the plaintiffs’ case to get his now out-of-district house.

The ACLU of Florida, meanwhile, is confident that the Commission will approve the settlement next week, writing in a statement to The Floridian, “We look forward to the full Commission taking up the agreement at their next meeting and ending this lengthy court battle. The people of Miami deserve fair maps and we are hopeful commissioners will approve the agreement next Thursday.”

“The Carollo Cabal” Faces Millions—But Insurance Doesn’t Want to Cover It

As Carollo fends off plaintiffs trying to collect his house while beating back allegations that he purposely gerrymandered district lines, another case is pending against the Miami Commissioner.

In this one, however, Carollo, ten city employees, and the city itself are being sued in a 644-page suit by Fuller and Pinilla and 15 of their LLCs targeted by the “Carollo Cabal”—as the original iteration of the court complaint called them.

“This is a copycat case based on all the evidence that came to light during the last case over the summer,” Billy Corben, a leading Carollo critic and prominent Miami-Dade Democrat, told The Floridian. “This new case takes all the evidence that was already successfully litigated and it goes against everybody now,”

“They’ve named the City of Miami, they’ve named Carollo, and they’ve named ten other City employees,” Corben continued. “They were all implicated in last year’s case—they just weren’t defendants yet.”

To add to the drama, Miami insurance company QBE Specialty Insurance Co. has just filed a $5 million suit to both reclaim funds from defending Carollo and prevent all future payments toward his defense, citing Carollo’s blackened history of finding himself at the center of lawsuits that the city—and taxpayers—end up covering.

“The fundamental premise underlying each and every one of the [lawsuits] is that Carollo — through his own actions and by conscripting others to do his bidding — engaged in a yearslong campaign of harassment with the conscious objective of inflicting harm on the underlying plaintiff,” QBE wrote.

As civil charges build up, compounded by a hefty insurance suit, it leads some to question: where are the criminal charges?

“Where is the cavalry? Where are the feds? Where is the FBI? They should have raided city hall and dragged all these clowns out years ago,” Corben said, referencing that Carollo’s fellow Commissioner who also voted for and benefited from the redistricted lines—Alex de la Portilla—was suspended, arrested, and charged with multiple felonies.

“They violated their First Amendment rights, they violated their due process rights, and they violated their private property rights,” Corben concluded.

Joe Carollo, three of his attorneys, Miguel DeGrandy, nor the Governor’s office responded to a request for comment.

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Liv Caputo

Liv Caputo

Livia Caputo is a senior at Florida State University, working on a major in Criminology, and a triple minor in Psychology, Communications, and German. She has been working on a journalism career for the past year, and hopes to become a successful reporter after graduation. Her work has been cited in Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mail

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