A Miami-Dade County commissioner turned himself in Tuesday morning and now faces two felony criminal charges.
Commissioner Joe Martinez has been under criminal investigation for years, at least since fall 2019. According to investigators, he was paid by a supermarket owner to formulate legislation that would have saved him from paying tens of thousands of dollars for violating a law that prohibited properties under 10 acres from having cargo storage containers, according to an arrest warrant.
The warrant said Martinez accepted three $5,000 payments for help with fees and fines. He was also to draft a law allowing one container.
The payments were made to Martinez in 2016, around the time he took office after being re-elected, and in 2017. Charges were for unlawful compensation and conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation.
It is the first time a sitting Miami-Dade commissioner has faced corruption charges in 20 years.
After turning himself in at 9 a.m., Martinez spent five hours in Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center prior to posting a $12,500 bond. Authorities mistakenly sent him to a bond hearing, but then released him.
Leaving the facility he said only, “One day when I have a chance to talk to you, I will talk to all of you… for now I am just going to go and deal with it.”
Martinez was accused of accepting $15,000 from Jorge Negrin, owner of Extra Supermarket, which is located in a shopping plaza near Southwest Eighth Street.
The supermarket and plaza had received numerous fines from Miami-Dade County’s code enforcement office because of six cargo containers kept at the back of the facility for inventory storage.
Since 2016, Martinez has been sporadically accepting checks from Negrin, authorities contend. On Aug. 30, two weeks after his latest election, Martinez allegedly received the first check of $5,000. Shortly after, in December of the same year, he received the second payment of $5,000. On March 17, 2017, Negrin sent the third and final $5,000.
Prior to being a commissioner, Martinez was an officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department for 17 years. He planned to run for Miami-Dade sheriff in 2024. Martinez, 64, served as chairman of the commission twice. He first held the District 11 seat in 2000, but then didn’t run for reelection in 2012. He again won the post in 2016.
Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle held a press conference in her office yesterday at 2:30 p.m. She stated, “In its simplest form, this case involves a public official using his office for his personal benefit.”
Through his attorney, Martinez has accused Rundle, a member of the Democratic Party, of targeting him because he is seen as a front runner for the sheriff position. He has pleaded not guilty.
Martinez is a colorful character who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for other candidates and – as a former police officer – often carries a gun to commission meetings.
Lorenzo and Velez wrote this story. Barreto was the videographer. Cardonne was the reporter.