U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek has some explaining to do. The Miami Democrat sought millions of federal dollars for a developer who paid his mother tens of thousands of dollars and helped one of his top aides buy a house. Meek denies any wrongdoing, but his explanations are not comforting. The U.S. Senate candidate is either clueless or worse, and more investigation is warranted.
The developer involved in this mess, Dennis Stackhouse, stands accused of double-billing and using fake invoices to steal nearly $1 million from a proposed biopharmaceutical complex for Liberty City, an economically depressed area in Miami-Dade County. The complex was never built, but it received significant support from Meek, including a $72,750 federal earmark in 2004. In 2006, Meek requested an additional $4 million in federal money for the project that didn't come through.
Meek claims he made valid efforts to boost development and bring needed jobs to his district. But the effort looks less noble in light of the lengths Stackhouse went to influence Meek. In addition to making political contributions to Meek, he paid former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, the congressman's mother, $90,000 in consulting fees and paid for her to drive a Cadillac Escalade. The developer also gave Meek's former Miami chief of staff, Anthony Williams, $13,000 for a down payment on a home and arranged a mortgage for him. Williams says the down payment has been repaid.
Meek's response claims he didn't know his mother was working for Stackhouse or of the financial help for Williams. Meek says had he known, he would have fired Williams.
It's hard to imagine not knowing your mother suddenly had more money and a new Cadillac. And if Meek had no idea what Williams was up to, then he was not supervising his staff very well. He was obviously aware that Williams was assisting Stackhouse's efforts to ingratiate himself with the congressman. A Stackhouse employee told Miami-Dade police that Williams arranged meetings between Meek and Stackhouse to discuss federal earmark funding. And a Stackhouse business associate told police that Carrie Meek regularly spoke to Kendrick Meek about the Poinciana Park project.
This scandal is not a plus for a politician running statewide for the first time, but then all of the biggest names in the Senate race have their issues. Republican Marco Rubio, the former state House speaker, is under investigation for his use of a GOP-issued credit card for private expenses. Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, hand-picked Jim Greer to lead the Republican Party of Florida and defended him even as it became clear that Greer was at the center of the credit card mess.
Meek's situation goes to the heart of public trust. With taxpayer money, he helped out the guy who was making sure his mother had a big payday and drove a very nice ride. The Miami-Dade police public corruption bureau should investigate if it is not already, and the House ethics committee should open an inquiry. At best, there is an appearance of impropriety in the relationship between Kendrick Meek and Stackhouse. Meek's denials are not credible, and it will take more digging by investigators to get closer to the truth.