Suspended Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones pleaded not guilty to bribery on Tuesday, March 30.
Though Spence-Jones did not appear in court, her defense lawyer, Peter Raben, entered the plea on her behalf in front of Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Yvonne Colodny.
Spence-Jones was indicted in early March on the bribery charge for allegedly taking $25,000 from two prominent developers in exchange for support of a project that would enhance their business.
Prosecutors allege that in 2006, Spence-Jones solicited money from MDM Hotel Group, Inc., the developers of the Metropolitan Miami office and residential complex, and the Codina Group Inc., another developer that sought an extension of Brickell Avenue.
In exchange, Spence-Jones voiced her support of a move to extend the name of Brickell Avenue further north along Southeast 2nd Avenue in downtown Miami, thus making the area more marketable for development.
Tuesday’s hearing was the latest development in an ongoing legal saga that began in November when Gov. Charlie Crist first suspended Spence-Jones – just days after she was re-elected by an overwhelming majority – following her arrest on a grand-theft charge. That charge relates to her allegedly redirecting two county grants totaling $50,000 to a family business, and using some of the funds for personal expenses.
After Spence-Jones convincingly won a special election in January, Crist suspended her again.
The twice-suspended commissioner challenged Crist’s decision in court, arguing that she should not have been suspended because she was never indicted. But the case was dismissed after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office sent down indictments against Spence-Jones on both the previous grand theft charge and the bribery charge.
Spence-Jones has denied committing any crime. Her attorneys have asked that both indictments be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Another hearing is scheduled for April 28 at 9:30 a.m.