South FL City Officials Turned Utility Into Extortion Racket

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For years, favored customers of the water and sewer utility in the financially troubled Miami-Dade community of Opa-locka (pop. 15,000) were allowed to ignore their bills, reports the Miami Herald. A Christian school supported by Mayor Myra Taylor, for example, ran up unpaid bills of nearly $120,000. Opa-locka turned its water and sewer system into an operation that let scores of businesses and residents with connections get free services as the city was edging toward insolvency. Some city workers turned the program into an illicit enterprise, cutting off the water of customers, and then charging cash to turn it back on — pocketing the money.

“What they are doing is criminal,” said Jordan Leonard, a former Opa-locka assistant city manager. The disclosures come as a state oversight board is trying to save the city from bankruptcy just months after the governor declared a financial emergency in Opa-locka. Two two top administrators have been charged with benefiting from the troubled water program. Yet the misconduct in the water program remains one of the least examined activities in a city that has been under an FBI corruption investigation for the past three years.

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