By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
One of the first of the now notorious White House "coffees" in 1994 saw the presence of Herrera, soon after his former lawyer Marvin Rosen had been installed as finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In the wake of his first White House visit, Herrera gave $25,000 to the DNC. "When I first meet the president," Herrera later disclosed, "I had not contributed a penny. Any politician who would listen without giving me a penny gets a lot of respect. Afterwards I did contribute as much as I could."
Four further meetings among Clinton, Gore and Herrera took place over the next two years, and Herrera later reported that the chief executives had "opened up some doors for me." Herrera continued to show his gratitude. A week after the fall elections he sent a $15,000 check to the DNC.
The doors that Herrera yearned to see opened were first, the rapid transfer of the title of the Air Force base to Dade County; second, an agreement that the tab for potentially expensive environmental clean-up of hazardous waste on the site would be borne by the federal government; third, that HABDI would get speedy approval from the FAA for its airport plans; four, that all of this would take place without the costly and disruptive ordeal of an environmental impact statement. This desire to cut through persnickety red tape--otherwise known as the laws of the land--was beautifully expressed by Rosen's associate Miguel DeGrandy, the lobbyist for HABDI. In January, DeGrandy told the Miami weekly New Times, "Based on Clinton's agenda for reinventing government, and wanting to flow everything down from the local government, it wouldn't make sense for the White House to be getting involved in what's really a local zoning issue."
But for the Clinton White House the concerns of Herrera were most emphatically not a local zoning issue. The White House's game plan for 1996 was to win Florida, where Cuban-Americans have become a potent political force and where the support of men like Herrera was eagerly desired. Of course the money was nice, too.
And indeed the White House has been riding two horses. In an effort to capture the national environmental vote, Al Gore had been point man in a scheme to broker a deal restraining some of the more outlandish predations of the Cuban-American sugar growers around the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, who had been pouring phosphorous into the Everglades. Gore's efforts, which in the end pleased no one, ran athwart the instincts and hopes of the developer lobby, which had been ladling out the cash to Clinton.
To put a good public face on the situation, the White House dispatched Katie McGinty to Florida on Jan. 10 of this year. McGinty was Gore's former chief enviro aide and is now head of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, one of whose functions is to oversee the development of federal environmental impact statements, and to ensure that the nation's environmental laws are being upheld. As she departed for Florida, McGinty issued a public welcome to Herrera. She declared the environmental issues should be looked at over the next couple of months, but that in the meantime the development project should go forward. Herrera said that his interpretation of McGinty's statement was that HABDI could go forward with as much as one million square feet of construction.
In other words, without competitive bidding, with no public disclosure and no environmental impact statement, HABDI has been given the green light to undertake a vast project with potentially disastrous environmental implications. The Miami group of the Sierra Club and other green outfits have requested a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, addressing the following questions:
* Where does the money behind HABDI come from? Even though it is about to undertake a multi-billion development scheme involving public assets, HABDI has never been required to open up its financial books. Rumors and speculation persist that the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to finance the project are coming from a combination of drug money and funds from South American-owned airline companies brought into the project by Jorge Mas Canosa, head of the Cuban-American Foundation. Much of the money given by Herrera to the DNC was drawn from HABDI accounts, which could mean that the party's treasury opened a southern as well as an eastern front in the battle for foreign contributions, which are illegal.
* Did HABDI bribe Dade County officials
to approve the exclusive lease arrangement without putting the project up for competitive bidding? Many of the players in the 1989 Dade County/Latin Builders Association bribery scandal are now promoting the Homestead deal with a similar enthusiasm.
* Did Marvin Rosen, the main partner of HABDI's law firm, Greenberg Traurig, use his position as DNC finance chairman to influence the transfer of the Homestead Air Force Base? If he did, and there certainly seems to be plenty of evidence that he was organizing meetings between his clients and government officials, then this would be a violation of the Hatch Act and the Federal Elections Campaign Act.
But the Sierra Club and the other petitioners aren't holding their breaths, since the person to whom they are directing their plea for criminal investigations is the U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno. They remember well how Reno, in her previous incarnation as Dade County district attorney, turned the blindest of eyes to political corruption and the rise of the Cuban-American mafia.