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MIAMI MIRROR TRUE REFLECTIONS

Nuvo sidewalk caf being measured March 17 to permit more seats

SOUTH BEACH RESTAURANTEUR ACCUSED OF MAKING MONEY LEGALLY Hernan Cardeno finally cracks down on Espanola Way
21 March 2014 By David Arthur Walters MIAMI MIRROR MIAMI BEACHAntonio Halabi, owner of the Flame Caffe & Grille on the corner of Espanola Way and Drexel Avenue, wishes he had not invested a million dollars in Miami Beach.

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MIAMI MIRROR TRUE REFLECTIONS


For nearly two years now he has been robbed of revenue by neighboring restaurants, especially those at the Washington Avenue mouth of the popular Espanola Way, who put out scores of illegal tables onto the sidewalks to absorb the traffic before it reaches him. The misconduct continued over two years despite his calls to the director of the Code Compliance Division of the City of Miami Beach Building Department, the city manager, and a city commissioner for the enforcement of the sidewalk caf ordinance. Code enforcement officers responded to the Halabis complaints in a discriminatory and retaliatory manner, bringing a trumped-up charge against him in court, and harassing small violators who were most harmed by the misconduct while handing out a few warnings or wristslaps to the major violators who were putting out scores of illegal tables every night. Most recently, agents for Halabis landlord, a firm controlled by prominent real estate investor and developer Scott Robins, threatened Halabi for harassing his neighbors. The Scott Robins Management notice did not state a single instance of harassment by Halabi hence the threat was obviously in retaliation for reporting the unlawful behavior of its tenants to the city. An appeal has been made to Scott Robins and Mayor Philip Levine, Robins partner in a major South Beach real estate development and fellow investor in the salvation of a troubled bank, for the resolution of what could become a nasty feud involving the parties, including the landlord and the city, in protracted litigation. City Manager Jimmy Morales, who initially refused to meet with Halabi, finally did so. According to Halabi, Morales admitted to recently ordering some leniency towards violators. Halabi said he pointed his finger out Morales, a professional politician and lawyer, and said, You, sir, have ordered the violation of law. You cannot make or change the law. The law is made by the commission, and you must enforce it. Nonetheless, the city charter provides a city manager with considerable discretion over permitting. This new city manager is under considerable pressure from all sides to solve all the citys problems. He is viewed at present as Supermanager and Mr. Nice Guy Hernan Cardeno, a sworn police commander appointed to run the Code Compliance Division two years ago while its director, Robert Santos-Alborna, was under investigation by the FBI, attended the meeting. He promised to finally have the sidewalk caf uniformly enforced along the two blocks of Espanola Way. Halabi believes that Cardeno is indeed making a sincere effort to correct the maladministration of the Division in respect to Espanola Way. I have not seen Cardenos personnel record hence know little about him besides he is highly regarded by a former Internal Affairs officer, and his name arose in a state ethics commission of another official because political pressure was put on him to fix a traffic ticket.
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MIAMI MIRROR TRUE REFLECTIONS


City Manager Morales apparently ordered that an extension be given to certain cafs whose permits had expired six months ago, instead of shutting them down after they were cited by Compliance. I pointed out in an email to Cardeno that general liability insurance policies naming the city as additional insured usually have clauses excluding coverage when permits have expired. He apparently did not read my letter, which I had directed to him because he is serving as the city managers point man on the issue. It is not Cardenos job to enforce insurance requirements. Still, it is his job to cite establishments for not renewing their permits. At least, I thought he would be interested in reducing the citys exposure to risks. He misinterpreted my email as a public record request, and forwarded it the city clerk for provision of records not asked for. On the other hand, City Attorney Jose Smith responded immediately to the concerns I raised over insurances lapses, directing them to the citys risk management office. I visited Espanola Way this evening. To his credit, Cardeno appears to making good on his promise to enforce the code. I observed a Compliance officer examining the Flames approved sidewalk caf drawings, counting Halabis seats and tables, and using a measuring tape to make sure the sidewalk had a five-foot wide clearance for pedestrians. I saw a large man with a mustache aggressively approach Halabis wife in front of the Flame, yelling at her in Spanish. I do not understand the language, but he was obviously angry and she was obviously frightened. I was about to intercede when he abruptly did an about-face and disappeared into the crowd. The police were called by Halabi. A task force officer and a Washington Avenue beat officer responded. The beat officer said that the police should not have been called because Mrs. Halabi was not touched. I remarked that no contact is required for an assault, whereupon the officer had a change of heart. The mustachioed man was searched for, especially at the Nuvo Restaurant, where he was believed to have entered, but he was not found. Hopefully no violence will occur as a result of the untraditional enforcement of the law by the Code Compliance Division on Espanola Way. The pattern there arouses suspicion at all levels in the light of recent investigations and arrests, and given the fact that the Division is military-style command operation headed by a sworn police officer. On the other hand, ordinary government negligence may be the main factor. To be sure, the FBI and Internal Affairs should keep a close eye on the situation. Halabi said that the FBI had gotten in touch with him in the past although he had not contacted the agency himself. The Halabis had already been working for nine hours when the police were called. Three waiters and a hostess were barely keeping up even with their help. The sidewalk caf was packed although there were no more than the usual numbers of tourists about. I figured the
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MIAMI MIRROR TRUE REFLECTIONS


place could net a quarter million a year instead of the losses Halabi was suffering from the mismanagement of private and public resources. I did not have an opportunity to chat with the Halabis until midnight. Mrs. Halabi was fluent enough in English to tell me that the man who had harassed her was with a neighboring restaurant, and that she had saved video of another occasion when restaurant owners had come to the restaurant to bully her husband into not reporting their violations. The Halabis have an extended family and a construction business in Venezuela, and a home and the Flame in Miami Beach. She said was saddened by the hatred on the Way, and was looking forward to returning to her beloved Venezuela, where she said was happier than here despite the turmoil on the streets. Antonio pointed out that other restaurants distant from the Washington Avenue entrance to Espanola Way were benefiting from Cardenos orders to enforce the code. You see how the other sidewalk cafes have more customers tonight? My caf is full, and not just because of my new pricing and menu items. As a medical doctor, I can tell you that the whole body benefits when the diseased parts are dealt with. I told the Compliance officer who checked my caf that I was happy to see him and would be happy if he came every day. I asked Halabi exactly what had the aggressive man with the moustache had said to his wife. Had he threatened to harm someone in any way? I was in the kitchen. He was angry and wanted to know where to find me. He said I was costing him money because he could not put out his illegal tables. You know, he was mad because I had prevented him from taking money away from me and my staff. And this time I had not even complained. Compliance was just doing its job for a change. That is like being accused of stealing your own money! I know it does not make sense. They are so used to stealing it from me they think they have a right to it. ##

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