Where is the state attorney in Marlins stadium fiasco?
By Michael Lewis
The most distressing aspect of the US Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of the Marlins ballpark fiasco is that it’s the only investigation.
Also distressing is that many who saddled taxpayers with the worst government giveaway ever here, all $3 billion of it, left office before a probe began, forcing successors to battle the fallout.
It’s unfortunate that it’s only securities investigators because their hunt is tightly focused yet may take years. Even if they file no charges, many illegal acts that might be involved don’t fall in their jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the publicly funded stadium opens in 3½ months under a cloud as more and more of the deal’s pitfalls get wide attention.
Despite seeking voluminous data, federal investigators target only misdeeds that affect buyers of city and county bonds issued to support a stadium deal that robbed the public blind.
Their job is to protect nobody else — certainly not commissioners who were misled in voting.
Federal investigators might not care what went on in one-on-one meetings of Marlins and Major League Baseball officials, the county manager, and city and county commissioners if securities laws weren’t broken.
Somehow, most elected officials were persuaded to approve a deal so lopsided that it couldn’t have been mere incompetence or indifference. But unless it involves securities law, federal investigators won’t tell us what they find.
The investigators might not be concerned, either, why commissioners who the night of a bond vote repeatedly asked county manager George Burgess the cost of repayment were never told.
Investigators might not care why Mr. Burgess told commissioners they already had the number, then admitted days after commissioners approved bonds costing well over $2 billion that, no, he hadn’t sent them data after all.
The investigators might not care that Mr. Burgess, whose specialty is finance, never used the word “billion” as commissioners sought a cost. They voted without a price tag.
Federal investigators also might not worry about balloon payments on those bonds — one $91 million issue alone will cost 14 times its value to repay — that imperil county operating funds.
Mr. Burgess sold a deal funded by tourist tax receipts, saying repeatedly that operating funds were exempt. But — surprise — if tourist taxes fall short, bondholders are pledged operating funds.
A shortfall is likely. Even bond raters the county paid, Standard & Poor’s, reported “the backloaded debt service schedule requires revenue growth to continue at a strong compounded pace of 3%-5% beginning in 2011 without interruption for 40 years, which we believe is unlikely.”
That might not concern securities investigators, because general revenue can pay bondholders if tourist tax revenues can’t. But it should pain taxpayers whose bills would soar to fund those payments.
No, federal probers don’t represent misled elected officials, those who pay taxes or voters who got no say whether the county should sell its soul for no payback to support the Marlins owners, whose names government wasn’t told and whose finances government never checked.
The investigators also mightn’t care why county mayor Carlos Alvarez, Miami mayor Manny Diaz and county manager Burgess, all now gone, pushed through this outrageous deal in 2009, or why both city and county commissioners, some now gone, mortgaged our future for it.
Unless illegal acts affect bondholders, they’re not in federal investigators’ jurisdiction.
But every bit of this deal, who supported it and why is in the jurisdiction of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Smoking guns are everywhere.
The only issue is whether those guns were fired illegally.
It’s a question the state attorney should have probed long ago, but it’s not too late to start. The securities investigators are gathering data that would aid a
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local investigation, one with far broader targets.
When smoking guns are everywhere, why is the securities commission the Lone Ranger?
It’s distressing that a local investigation hasn’t begun. If, as is possible, there were no payoffs, no illegal promises, no crimes, a thorough probe would dispel lingering suspicions that certainly aided the vote to recall Mayor Alvarez.
And, if there were crimes — well, isn’t that what the state attorney’s office is supposed to be hunting for?