GRANT MILLER OPINION PIECE: The Chinese government just announced that it had caught up with the U.S. and developed its own version of the Mother of All Bombs, a giant conventional weapon with the explosive power of a small nuclear warhead. That news reminded me of what just happened at the January 3rd meeting of the South Miami City Commission.
Stephen Cody, the man who is taking Mayor Philip Stoddard before the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & the Public Trust, dropped the Mother of All Political Bombs on Phil Stoddard. Two Mother Bombs, actually.
Even the most occasional reader of this newspaper has read about the aftermath of the burglary of Philip Stoddard’s house that allegedly took place in March 2011. What happened in the wee small hours of that March morning continues to radiate outward, like a boulder tossed into a backyard swimming pond.
The South Miami Police were on scene at Phil’s house within 30 seconds after he hung up after making his 911 call. The first officer on the scene was there quick enough to see a naked Phil Stoddard putting on his pants in front of his daughter and a Russian exchange student.
The South Miami PD did an immediate and thorough canvass of the neighborhood, but no suspect was found and none of the neighbors reporting seeing anyone. Still, the investigation proceeded. Months went by.
Sixteen months after the alleged burglary, the South Miami Police Department closed the case. The last official acts were a Supplemental Report filed by a Police Lieutenant and an inter-office memo put in the file by another officer.
It was those last two acts that triggered Phil Stoddard.
The FDLE documents, which Cody provided to the City Commission, state that on July 10, 2013, the Miami office of the FDLE received a phone call from Stoddard claiming that a criminal act had been committed by the filing of the last two reports.
The FDLE took the matter seriously, to their credit. Any charge of police misconduct should be thoroughly investigated, if for no other reason than to preserve the integrity of our criminal justice system.
The FDLE started with a review of the burglary file itself and interviewed Internal Affairs Sgt. Jeff Griffin. From there, they took a statement from Detective Lisa King, who had interviewed the Russian exchange student just after the burglary had taken place.
The FDLE next interviewed Major Ana Baixauli, who gave a sworn statement which was recorded. (A link to the audio file can be found at the end of this article, as well as link to the full report of the FDLE.) The FDLE summary of the interview of Baixauli states: “While walking them through the house discussing the incident, Stoddard took them to his bedroom and pointed to what looked like a ‘doggie bed’ at the foot of his bed and said that the girls (his adoptive daughter and 16 year old exchange student) were sleeping there. Stoddard called the sleeping area for the two girls ‘the nest.’ Baixauli asked Stoddard again about the ‘doggie bed.’ Stoddard told her, he called it the nest. Stoddard explained that his parents were in town, his house was crowded, and the girls were displaced.”
Former South Miami Manager Hector Mirabile was also interviewed and gave a sworn statement that was also recorded. (A link to the Mirabile interview is also at the end of this article.)
The FDLE also interviewed South Miami High Principal Gilberto Bonce, the school where the Russian exchange student was enrolled. Bonce stated that he learned of the burglary and the fact that Phil was naked with the exchange student from a link he received in 2013, long after the exchange student left the school. The FDLE summary of the interview states that, if Bonce had known those facts while the exchange student was in attendance, he would have been obligated to contact the Department of Children and Families.
When Stoddard and his wife were interviewed by the FDLE, they reportedly claimed to be the victims of a “conspiracy” and identified two South Miami Police officers who would corroborate their conspiracy claims. However, both officers were interviewed by the FDLE and neither knew anything about a conspiracy.
The agency spoke with Yvonne Foreman, an official with the student exchange program that had placed the Russian juvenile in Stoddard’s home. The alleged burglary was news to the exchange agency. Ms. Foreman is reported to have stated that had “PAX Academic Exchange been made aware of the burglary and the possibility that Stoddard was naked that PAX Academic Exchange would have pulled the child from the home.”
In the end, the FDLE didn’t find any evidence of a conspiracy. Stoddard was left like Captain Queeg, played by Humphrey Bogart in the movie The Caine Mutiny, who nervously rolled a pair of steel balls in his hands as his claims of being unjustly set upon by his officers fell apart.
The investigation of the criminal conspiracy alleged by Phil Stoddard did not end with a bang, but instead died with a whimper. And the details of the FDLE investigation might have faded into obscurity if the file had not been saved and later produced in response to a public records request. They are now part of the official records of the City of South Miami.
Almost everything that has happened to Phil in the last several years has spiraled outward from the events of the alleged March 3, 2011 burglary and how he reacted to them.
Phil stopped Cody from speaking about the mishandling of the firing of Chief Martinez and the resulting costs on two separate occasions because he was afraid that it would hurt the chances of his reelection. That resulted in a complaint to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and their finding of probable cause. The ethics trial is scheduled for March 2019. A finding by the Ethics Commission that Stoddard acted intentionally would result in his automatic removal from office.
The second political bomb that Cody set off at the meeting could do even greater damage to the City of Pleasant Living because of documents produced by the City itself.
Phil hosted a Halloween party for his daughter and her friends at his house in 2014. At the party, a young man, still a minor, went into distress. Phil did not call 911 but had some of the other young men present carry the sick teen out of his house. The boy’s mother arrived just in time to take him to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, where he drifted in and out of consciousness.
Cody asked the City to provide him with all text messages between Stoddard and Police Chief Rene Landa. What he got included an exchange of texts between the Mayor and Chief dated November 1, 2014, the day after the Halloween party. The message from the Chief had been redacted by City Attorney Thomas Pepe.
Cody told Stoddard and the Commissioners that he had been able to get a copy of the unredacted text. (When I asked, he wouldn’t tell me how.) The unredacted text show that November 1, 2014 at 3:21 PM, the Chief sent Stoddard a text with the name and telephone number of the young man who, at the time, was still recovering at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Interestingly, the redacted version didn’t redact the kid’s phone number — it wiped it away entirely.
Section 856.105 of the Florida Statutes requires that a person in control of a residence must not allow or permit minors to consume alcohol or drugs. It doesn’t matter whether the homeowner supplies the booze or drugs to the kids or the kids bring it themselves. Violating this provision of the law is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of $500.
At the time when Stoddard should have been considered a suspect of violating section 856.015, Chief Landa was sharing the name and telephone number of the minor victim of the crime with him. That would be akin to Landa divulging the name and phone number of a rape victim to the likely suspect. It goes against every norm of law enforcement. Whether it is a crime will have to be determined.
This matter is worsened by the fact that City Attorney Pepe reviewed the document and, while in his hands, the name of the minor was blackened out and the phone number was removed. Had Pepe been on the ball, he should have contacted the FDLE and reported Chief Landa. This is a matter the City’s Internal Affairs Division could not have investigated. From all appearances, Pepe kept what Stoddard and Landa did to himself.
And Phil? He used his position as Mayor to get the Chief to give him the name and telephone number of the minor victim. Someone with no political power would never have been able to get the Chief to divulge the young man’s identity. Landa, however, being an obsequious bureaucrat, complied with the enthusiasm of a yellow Labrador pup.
The takeaway from these sorted affairs shows that we need more investigations. If the South Miami City Commission will not act and investigate Stoddard, Pepe, and Landa, then the Ethics Commission, the FDLE, and any and all other appropriate law enforcement agencies need to step in and do it quickly.
The force of the two Mother of All Political Bombs that Stephen Cody dropped this month is going to reverberate well into the New Year and may shake the City to its foundation.