The Codina Conundrum
What the Spence-Jones bribery case taught us about the real estate business and shamelessness
By Kirk Nielsen
Armando Codina, CEO of Codina Partners and esteemed icon of the local business world, was never a defendant in the bribery case of ex-Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. But he sure seemed like one. “He doesn’t want to believe he did anything wrong,” state prosecutor Richard Scruggs told the jury when Spence-Jones’s trial began last month, observing that Codina was “not a happy camper” about having to testify. Jurors didn’t want to believe it either. They acquitted Spence-Jones of illegally soliciting a $25,000 “charitable donation” from Codina in 2006.
The unhappiest camper turned out to be State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who blamed Judge Rosa Rodriguez for having a lax sense of the bribery law. “The jury had no choice but to acquit the defendant because the judge instructed the jury that, in effect, soliciting or accepting a bribe through a charity is legal, even if done with corrupt intent,” Fernandez-Rundle says. “Bribery has become very sophisticated in our community. We believe that bribery done to influence a public official, even if done through a charity, is illegal.”
Obscured by the headlines is the story of Codina’s metamorphosis over the past year from repentant prosecution witness to an increasingly defiant asset for the ex-commissioner’s defense. He repeatedly said he was “ashamed” when Scruggs rang him up in March 2010 and grilled him about complying with Spence-Jones’s $25,000 request, while Codina and a high-rise development group had an item before the city commission.
“Ashamed” not only for agreeing to the favor but doing so while something was on his mind: a proposed ordinance to glamorize MDM Development Group’s massive Met 2 hotel and office project in dreary old downtown by changing that stretch of SE Second Avenue to “Brickell.” Codina, MDM’s leasing agent, told Scruggs that a prospective tenant -- global financial powerhouse UBS -- had wanted the change as part of its lease agreement. “They would have preferred the Brickell name,” Codina said, referring to UBS executives.
He was also “ashamed” that, yes, he promptly called his friend and business partner at MDM, Ricardo Glas, to shell out half of the $25,000. “I’m ashamed to tell you that if she wanted to leverage her position to get me to make a contribution to a good cause, I had no problem with that,” he told Scruggs. “But I thought about it, and I wrote the check.... I’m at fault .... Listen, I made a mistake.” Read on at Poder.