Seventh Individual Charged in Opa Locka Municipal Corruption Investigation
Charges Include Failure to File Tax Returns
Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), announced federal charges against Dante Starks arising from his role in the Opa Locka municipal corruption scheme.
“The resulting harm from corruption, extortion and bribery denies law abiding citizens the right to expect honest services from government officials overseeing their business-related issues,” stated U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg. “Political power and influence must not be bought or sold and those who believe otherwise will be prosecuted by this office with the assistance of our dedicated law enforcement partners.”
“For the public to have confidence in their government, they must be certain that officials - either elected or appointed - will not use their position for personal gain,” said Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “Public corruption remains a top priority for the FBI. We encourage anyone who may have information about corruption to come forward and report it. This information is vital to our work.”
“Today's announcement demonstrates our collective efforts to enforce the law and ensure public trust,” stated Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-CI. “The tax laws apply to everyone, and each of us is responsible for filing correct and accurate tax returns. Choosing not to file a tax return is a crime; and IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to investigate individuals who ignore their tax responsibilities.”
Starks, 55 of Miami-Dade County, was charged by indictment with conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1951 (a); conspiracy to commit Federal programs bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371; aiding and abetting Federal programs bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(1)(B) and 2; and failure to file income tax returns (for tax years 2014, 2015 and 2016), in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 7203. If convicted, Starks faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison for the Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy, 5 years in prison for the bribery conspiracy, 10 years in prison for each count of aiding and abetting bribery, and 1 year in prison on each of the failure to file charges. The case against Starks is assigned to U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez (Case No. 18-20313-CR).
Starks is charged with conspiring with former Opa Locka City Commissioner Luis Santiago, former Opa Locka City Manager David Chiverton, and former Opa Locka Assistant Public Works Director Gregory Harris, to use the official positions and authority that Santiago, Chiverton, and Harris had with the City of Opa Locka to solicit, demand, and obtain personal payments from businesses and individuals in exchange for taking official actions, and for directing, pressuring, and advising other city employees to take official actions, to assist and benefit those businesses and individuals in their official dealings with the City of Opa Locka.
As the Indictment alleges, although Starks was not an official or employee of the City of Opa Locka, he was closely associated with and had great influence over Santiago. Starks also had and exercised significant influence over numerous other city officials and employees, including Chiverton and Harris, and he regularly used that significant influence to pressure and advise city officials and employees to take official actions on matters relating to occupational licenses, code enforcement citations and fines, liens, water service and billing, zoning, and city contracting.
Working together, Santiago and Starks solicited and obtained illegal payments from businesses and individuals in Opa Locka. In exchange for these illegal personal payments, Santiago, with the assistance of Starks, would take official actions on behalf of the paying businesses and individuals, and would also work with Starks to direct, pressure, and advise Chiverton, Harris, and other City of Opa Locka employees to take official actions on behalf of those businesses and individuals. These official actions included, but were not limited to, issuing occupational licenses; waiving, removing, and settling code enforcement matters and liens; initiating, restoring and continuing water service; reducing and eliminating water service billing balances; assisting with zoning issues; and assisting with obtaining city contracts.
Starks also is charged with participating in a conspiracy with Santiago and others to receive bribes in exchange for ensuring that a particular company received a city contract. According to the Indictment, in April 2015, the City of Opa Locka published a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) seeking bids from licensed and experienced towing firms seeking multi-year non-exclusive contracts to provide Opa Locka with citywide towing services. Shortly after this RFP was published, then-City Commissioner Santiago and Starks met with Raul Sosa Sr. (“Sosa Sr.”), who agreed to pay them a $10,000 bribe to ensure that the company Sosa Sr. was associated with, referred to as the “Towing Company,” was selected as one of the companies receiving a city towing contract.During this meeting, Sosa Sr. paid the first installment of the bribe and designated his son, Raul Sosa Jr. (“Sosa Jr.”), the Towing Company’s manager, as the person who would work with Santiago and Starks to carry out the illegal arrangement.
The Indictment further alleges that Starks arranged for Opa Locka’s Purchasing Director to assemble and prepare the Towing Company’s bid package. After this bid was submitted, Starks violated the city’s purchasing Cone of Silence rule by contacting a member of the city’s committee evaluating the towing bids and directing that individual to rank the Towing Company as the number one company. While this process was ongoing, Sosa Jr. made additional partial payments of the agreed $10,000 bribe. To complete the illegal arrangement, at the June 24, 2015, City Commission meeting, Santiago used his position as a City Commissioner to vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into towing contracts with the Towing Company and three other companies. The final installment of the bribe was paid after the City Commission voted to award a contract to the Towing Company.
In addition, Starks was charged in the Indictment with failing to file federal income tax returns for tax years 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Related cases arising from the Opa Locka corruption investigation are the following:
Santiago previously pled guilty to conspiring to commit Federal programs bribery and Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right (Case No. 16-20971-CR). Santiago was sentenced to 51 months in prison.
Chiverton previously pled guilty to conspiring to commit Federal programs bribery and Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right (Case No. 16-20596-CR). Chiverton was sentenced to 38 months in prison.
Harris previously pled guilty to conspiring to commit Federal programs bribery and Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right (Case No. 16-20589-CR-BLOOM). Harris was the first defendant to plead guilty to charges arising from this investigation, and received a sentence of probation.
Sosa Sr. and Sosa Jr. have been charged by Indictment with conspiracy to commit Federal programs bribery and substantive counts of Federal programs bribery (Case No. 18-20256-CR). Their case is pending before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force and IRS-CI in this matter. Mr. Greenberg thanked the Miami-Dade Police Department and Hialeah Police Department for their assistance. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward N. Stamm and Maurice Johnson.
An Indictment merely contains allegations and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.