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U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek tied to failed Poinciana Park project fraud case

As U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek championed a proposed biopharmaceutical complex for Liberty City in 2003, his Miami chief of staff received $13,000 from the project's developer to help the aide buy a house, newly released police records show.

The developer, Dennis Stackhouse, is now awaiting trial, accused of stealing nearly $1 million from the failed Poinciana Park project that was supposed to revitalize the blighted Liberty City community. Nothing was ever built.

The police records show that Stackhouse engaged in an elaborate campaign to curry favor with Meek as the builder sought the congressman's help in obtaining federal funding for the project. In addition to helping the aide's house purchase, Stackhouse hired Meek's mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, paying her $90,000 in consulting fees and paying for a Cadillac Escalade for her to drive.

Meek twice sought congressional earmarks to benefit the project but has insisted that was unrelated to his mother's work for the developer.

On Friday, he repeated that his efforts were designed to help bring jobs and development to the heart of his district — not to provide political payback to Stackhouse.

Some details of Stackhouse's relationship with Meek — a Democrat in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate — were first revealed in a series of Miami Herald articles in 2007. Responding at the time, Meek said that he was unaware that Stackhouse had hired his mother and that he had never discussed the Stackhouse project with her.

However, Stackhouse business associate Fred Durham told Miami-Dade police detectives that Carrie Meek indeed regularly spoke with her son about the Poinciana Park project — even complaining that "he never listens to me."

Kendrick Meek said Friday that Durham's statement was wrong, insisting that his mother did not speak to him about her efforts for Stackhouse.

"She knows what the rules are, and I know what the rules are," he said. "We're about integrity and there is a reason we're trusted. There hasn't been anyone that's been able to penetrate that, and I honor that."

Carrie Meek also told the Herald in 2007 that she never lobbied her son on Stackhouse's behalf. Repeated phone calls to her and her lawyer H.T. Smith were not returned Friday.

The police records also show that:

• Stackhouse arranged a home mortgage for Meek's then-chief of staff in Miami, Anthony D. Williams, and gave Williams the $13,000 for the down payment on his house. Contacted Friday, Williams told the Herald that Meek was unaware of the transaction.

Williams — who later worked as director of the Carrie Meek Foundation — said he sought Stackhouse's help when his poor credit rating prevented him from getting a loan. He said he later repaid the $13,000 to Stackhouse.

Meek said he never knew about the mortgage deal until told by a Herald reporter Friday. Had he known then, Meek said, he would have fired Williams.

• Though Meek has said he was unaware at the time that his mother was working for Stackhouse, a witness told police that the congressman knew Williams traveled with Carrie Meek to Tallahassee when she lobbied Florida A&M University to take part in the Poinciana Park project.

Meek on Friday said he was upset when he learned Williams went to Tallahassee without his approval — but did not know why he went there.

"I'll put it this way: Anthony Williams is no longer with my congressional office because of some of the individual decisions he's made, okay?" the congressman said.

• Stackhouse and his wife donated $5,000 to a "birthday celebration weekend'' fundraiser for Kendrick Meek in September 2003. "You and others like you are helping to build and strengthen the infrastructure of our campaign," Meek wrote them, thanking them for "hosting'' the event.

A week later, in a previously undisclosed lobbying effort, Meek wrote to the Miami-Dade Public Health Trust asking the trust to be a partner in the biopharmaceutical project. The trust promised to consider a partnership, though none was ever established.

Meek said Friday that it is standard for donors to get thank you letters and that everyone who donated above a certain amount was designated a "host." After the county canceled the Poinciana Park project amid questions over Stackhouse's spending, Meek donated the contribution to charity, he said.

The Miami-Dade police public corruption bureau would not say if detectives are investigating the Meeks.

"This case is still an ongoing, open active investigation and because of that, we are not in a position at this time to discuss (specifics)," police spokesman Robert Williams said Friday.

Police arrested Stackhouse in October, more than two years after the Herald reported that the developer used double billings and fake invoices to steal from a county agency and a private Boston bank. The 2007 Herald series, "Poverty Peddlers," spurred the criminal investigation.

Stackhouse is charged with first-degree organized scheme to defraud and two counts of first-degree grand theft.

His defense attorney, Larry Handfield, had not received the police documents yet but said: "I'm confident that when all is said and done, he will be vindicated. He has not done anything that can be characterized as anything that is illegal."

Stackhouse first proposed his ambitious project for the Miami-Dade County-owned Poinciana Park in 2003, promising as many as 3,500 high-tech jobs, millions in tax revenue and medical services for the poor. To finance the project, he sought money from the county's Empowerment Trust and from Meek's office, records show.

In 2004, Meek obtained a $72,750 earmark in the federal budget for the Stackhouse project. In June 2005, he also helped get a $1 million labor grant for Miami Dade College to train 800 technicians and related workers for the biopharmaceutical park.

In April 2006, Meek requested another $4 million in federal appropriations for Stackhouse's project, money that was never obtained.

The records suggest Stackhouse's key contact in Meek's office was chief of staff Anthony Williams, described by witnesses as a regular visitor to Stackhouse's office. Williams was also a golfing buddy of Durham, a business associate of Stackhouse's.

Stackhouse helped Williams obtain his home loan in December 2003, while Stackhouse was seeking help from the congressman's office. The $13,000 down payment "upset'' one of Stackhouse's partners, the records show.

"I was very uncomfortable with the overall transaction, insofar as Anthony Williams had responsibilities both with Kendrick Meek and Carrie Meek that, you know, this could have been portrayed as influence," another Stackhouse partner, Karl Rice, told police.

"Absolutely, it was inappropriate," Kendrick Meek told the Herald Friday. "I'm sorry he even put himself in a position to be able to ask Stackhouse or anyone else for assistance."

The police records show that detectives believed they had enough evidence to charge Williams with mortgage fraud, but prosecutors did not think the case was strong enough.

Months after the mortgage deal, Stackhouse's company received a $2.2 million construction loan for an Opa-locka office building from the Miami-Dade Urban Revitalization Task Force — a group for which both Kendrick Meek and Williams were board members at the time. Meek did not vote on that loan.

A year later, with Williams as chairman, the task force loaned $3 million to the Poinciana Project, money that Stackhouse never tapped into.

A Stackhouse employee, Carolina Misle, told police that Williams brokered meetings between Stackhouse and Kendrick Meek "regarding funding and earmarks." Stackhouse business associate Durham also told investigators that Williams set up a meeting in Washington between Stackhouse, Durham and Meek's Washington chief of staff, John Scheible.

In an interview with the Herald Friday, Williams said he had only a minimal role in helping Stackhouse obtain funding for his project. He said he merely forwarded Stackhouse's requests to Meek's staff in Washington.

"If the motivation for Mr. Stackhouse was to somehow curry favor by helping me, that was never communicated to me. I can assure you, he never got any help from me that I would not have provided to any other project in the district," he said.

Williams said he never told Meek about the mortgage deal because it was a "private'' matter.

"I probably could have used better judgment, to see how this would be perceived. But at the time, it seemed pretty innocuous," Williams said. Williams confirmed that he accompanied Carrie Meek and Stackhouse to Tallahassee, where they lobbied FAMU to get involved in the Poinciana Park project. He said he traveled not as a member of the congressman's staff, but as a board member of Carrie Meek's nonprofit foundation.

Williams remained on Kendrick Meek's staff until December 2006, when he left to head the Carrie Meek Foundation.

Read previous coverage

To read the Miami Herald series "Poverty Peddlers," go to links.tampabay.com.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek tied to failed Poinciana Park project fraud case 05/14/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 15, 2010 12:21am]

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