MIAMI — Just days after suspended Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones declared that she would be victorious in her quest to reclaim her District 5 seat, she found herself standing before another judge, pleading not guilty to a new charge: bribery.
Spence-Jones surrendered to authorities on Thursday in court before Miami Dade Circuit Judge Yvonne Colodny. Her arrest came one day after she received a double set of indictments from a Miami-Dade County Grand Jury. She was released on bond.
In addition to an indictment on the grand-theft charge that had been filed against her in November, Spence-Jones was also indicted Wednesday for allegedly taking $25,000 in connection with her support for a development on Brickell Avenue in Miami. Both offenses are second-degree felony offenses.
According to a press release from the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Spence-Jones in 2006 solicited money from MDM Hotel Group, Inc., the developers of the Metropolitan Miami office and residential complex; and the Codina Group Inc., another developer.
In exchange for the money, Spence-Jones would have allegedly voted to extend the name of Brickell Avenue further north along Southeast 2nd Avenue in downtown Miami, making the area more prestigious and therefore more marketable for developers.
Spence-Jones and her supporters say the indictments are simply a ploy to keep her from winning her civil case against her second suspension by Gov. Charlie Crist.
“It is a travesty. It’s shameful and disgraceful that the justice system would be used like this just because we were going to prevail, just because the people decided who they wanted their leader to be that you would go to this extent to use the system. It’s wrong,” Spence-Jones told reporters on Wednesday.
A Spence-Jones supporter agreed.
“I’m disappointed in the justice system pertaining to these new allegations of bribery because she’s not that type of person. I’ve known her for a long time and she’s the type of person that likes to help people,” Sara Smith, the resident council president for the Liberty Square housing complex, told the South Florida Times on Thursday.
Smith said she finds it suspicious that the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office sent the indictments just one hour before the final briefs were due in Spence-Jones’ civil case, where she was certain they’d be victorious in restoring her to her commission seat.
“Yesterday at 5 p.m. was the deadline for them to submit the briefs and at 4 p.m. they came up with these new, trumped-up charges. If that’s not nit-picking, then what is it?” Smith said.
Terry Chavez, a spokesperson for the State Attorney’s office, dismissed those claims, saying that one case has nothing to do with the other.
“That is something for the civil courts to decide. We only focus on doing our jobs, which is the criminal prosecution of the defendant. Whatever happens in the civil court has nothing to do with us,” Chavez told the South Florida Times.
Last Friday, after hearing arguments from both sides, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Platzer was seriously considering Spence-Jones’ claim that Crist had no right to re-suspend her.
“My main concern is with the re-suspension. Do the rights of the voters trump the rights of the governor and the Legislature?” Platzer asked.
Gov. Charlie Crist suspended Spence-Jones from the Miami City Commission after she was charged with grand theft in November. He suspended her again on Jan. 14, after she was re-elected in a special election on Jan. 12.
In the Jan. 12 special election, Spence-Jones received more than 53 percent of the vote and defeated eight other candidates. Prior to Crist’s first suspension, Spence-Jones was re-elected on Nov. 3 with nearly 83 percent of the vote.
In November, days after Spence-Jones was re-elected the first time, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office charged her with one count of second-degree grand theft, a felony. She is accused of steering two county contracts totaling $50,000 to a company she and family members owned, and spending the money for personal use. One of the new indictments from the grand jury on Wednesday is tied to that case.
One of Spence-Jones’ main arguments against her re-suspension was that the re-suspension was unconstitutional because she had never been indicted. That is no longer true, but Spence-Jones and her supporters are still confident she will be victorious.
“It seems like a witch hunt and assassination of her character and that’s not nice but in the long run I know that everything will come out in the open because she’s innocent of these charges,” Smith said.
“I will be found innocent of this as well and I will be back in my seat to continue what I started,” Spence-Jones said.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Michelle Spence-Jones