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Miami New Times - November 23, 2009

Troubled Miami-Dade Agency Gets Revamped
By Francisco Alvarado

Alex Izaguirre

Miami-Dade County commissioners are gearing up to revamp the Miami Metro Action Plan Trust, the social and economic redevelopment agency created in the wake of the racial riots that rocked the county during the '80s.

On December 1, the commission will vote to reconstitute the trust into the Miami-Dade Housing Civil Rights Oversight Board. It's primary mission will be to investigate public housing discrimination complaints. It will no longer dole out taxpayer funds.

MMAP was responsible for providing grants and loans to small black businesses in historically poor neighborhoods such as Overtown and Liberty City. But for most of its history, MMAP has just been a source of trouble.

Two weeks ago, state prosecutors indicted Michelle Spence-Jones on a second-degree grand theft charge, claiming she diverted $50,000 in grants from MMAP meant for a building renovation to herself and her family. The suspended Miami commissioner denies any criminal wrongdoing. Other scandals included her pastor, Rev. Gaston Smith, being charged with pocketing $10,000 from a $25,000 grant, and businessman Robert Word, who recently pleaded guilty to stealing $175,000 in taxpayer money.

In addition, a 2008 audit discovered the trust conducted inadequate due diligence in vetting people who received grants and often did not follow up on how the agency funds were spent.