Seventh Individual Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Role in Opa Locka Municipal Corruption Investigation
Dante Starks, an influential figure in Opa Locka and close associate of former City Commissioner Luis Santiago, was sentenced today to five years in prison by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez for his participation in the long-running Opa Locka municipal corruption conspiracy and his failure to file federal income tax returns.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Michael J. De Palma, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), made the announcement.
Starks pled guilty on June 25, 2018, to a two-count Superseding Information. Specifically, Starks pled guilty to conspiring to commit extortion under color of official right and federal programs bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371, 1951(a) and 666(a)(1)(B), and to failing to file his 2015 federal income tax return, in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 7203 (18-20313-CR-MARTINEZ). Judge Martinez sentenced Starks to 60 months in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release. Starks was also ordered to forfeit $45,700 to the United States, to pay restitution to the victims of the corruption scheme and to pay $39,416 in restitution to the IRS for unpaid taxes. A victim restitution hearing has been scheduled for December 14, 2018, before Judge Martinez.
“Today, a significant participant in the long-running Opa Locka municipal corruption conspiracy was held accountable for his many criminal acts that compromised the integrity of the city’s governmental functions,” stated U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan. “The cases announced to date, as part of the Opa Locka corruption investigation, do not signal an end to our enforcement efforts. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our dedicated partners at the FBI and IRS-CI remain committed to the investigation and prosecution of corrupt officials and encourage the public to continue to report all suspected criminal acts.”
"Corrupt Opa Locka municipal officials and their associates breached the public's trust and are now being held to account," said George L. Piro, 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 sentencing brings an important defendant in this corruption investigation to justice. The results of this case send a clear message that the law applies to everyone, regardless of position or power,” stated Michael J. De Palma, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-CI. “This joint law enforcement effort shows our commitment to investigate individuals who violate the public trust, and IRS-CI will continue to utilize our financial expertise in these cases where individuals misuse official positions and ignore their tax obligations.”
According to the court record, including the stipulated factual basis for the plea, Starks conspired 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 to assist and benefit those businesses and individuals in their official dealings with the City of Opa Locka.
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 direct 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, and in exchange, Santiago would take official actions on their behalf, and Starks and Santiago would pressure and direct Chiverton, Harris, and other City of Opa Locka employees to take official actions on behalf of those businesses and individuals.
In addition, Starks participated in a conspiracy with Santiago and others to receive bribes in exchange for ensuring that a particular company received a city contract. In April 2015, 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. Over the next two months, Starks collected $10,000 in cash payments from Raul Sosa Jr. (“Sosa Jr.”), the Towing Company’s manager, and in exchange, 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 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. To complete the illegal arrangement, at the June 24, 2015, City Commission meeting authorizing the award of the towing contracts, Santiago used his position as a City Commissioner to bring forward and vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into a city contract with the Towing Company.
Starks also willfully failed to file federal income tax returns for the tax years 2014, 2015 and 2016. Starks had over $39,000 in unpaid tax liability arising from the income he earned during those years.
Starks was the seventh individual to be sentenced for his involvement in the Opa Locka corruption conspiracy. 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-WILLIAMS). Santiago was sentenced to 51 months in prison (the sentence was subsequently reduced to 30 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-ALTONAGA). Chiverton was sentenced to 38 months in prison, to be followed by 8 months of home confinement.
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. previously pled guilty to conspiracy to commit Federal programs bribery (Case No. 18-20256-CR-MARTINEZ). Sosa Sr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison, consecutive to a 78-month sentence he received for an unrelated federal tax conviction in 2016. Sosa Jr. was sentenced to probation.
Demetrius Corleon Taylor, a non-employee who also helped collect money from Opa Locka businesses in exchange for official actions by city employees, previously pled guilty to conspiracy to commit Federal programs bribery and Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right (Case No. 16-20890-CR-GAYLES). He was sentenced to 5 months in prison, to be followed by 5 months of home confinement.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force and IRS-CI in this matter. Mrs. Fajardo Orshan thanked the Miami-Dade Police Department and Hialeah Police Department for their assistance. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward N. Stamm and Maurice Johnson.