Ex-Fund Chief Under Fire in Miami

Twice a year members of the Miami Police Relief & Pension Fund (MPRPF) convene at the “ultra swanky” Miami Palm Restaurant. They dine on lobster that sells for $80 and up and filet mignon at $29 a pop, and swig fine wine that goes for as much as $400. Members congratulate one another for successfully managing police officers’ money. The group sometimes numbers around twenty and bills can reach $2,500. Everything is charged to the pension fund.

Just prior to the Dec. 1998 celebration, MPRPF’s board made a $5,800 withdrawal. The money was used to buy a Rolex Submariner watch for retiring chairman and ex-police chief Donald Warshaw. Warshaw ran MPRPF for seventeen years. Since Sep. 1998, Warshaw has been Miami’s city manager. Reportedly, he still wears the Rolex.

Recently dissident officers, fed up with MPRPF’s overindulgence, have attacked the expensive timepiece and big spending at the restaurant. “When we retire from bumping and grinding in the trenches, are we going to get a Rolex watch?” asks an unnamed dissident. In Sep., the dissidents complained at a Fraternal Order of Police union meeting about Warshaw’s spending.

Further, Warshaw failed to list the gift on his 1998 financial disclosure form. Fla. law requires all elected officials and top administrators to submit a document that details their sources of income and gifts worth over $100. The state ethics commission considers a case if a complaint is filed. Punishment for nondisclosure ranges from a public reprimand to a monetary fine.

The attacks are only the latest in a string of accusations against the city manager. Warshaw is already under federal scrutiny for his questionable use of credit cards issued by MPRPF and another nonprofit organization linked to the City of Miami called Do the Right Thing. For example, before committing suicide in Jul., accountant Ronald Stern alleged Warshaw had charged Fla. Panthers hockey tickets worth $16,775 on the pension fund’s platinum credit card. Warshaw claims he repaid the fund.

Many of Warshaw’s problems trace back to his acquaintance with Stern. The accountant and the manager met in 1990 after the MPRPF board hired Stern to run the pension fund. Stern and Warshaw developed a friendship and attended many sporting events together. Stern also managed the finances for Do the Right Thing, a city-funded program started in 1990 to recognize youngsters for outstanding deeds. Warshaw was one of the founders and supervisors.

Stern began embezzling from the two funds in 1996, according to court records. He deposited the stolen cash into an investment account he created called the Fla. Fund. Then he solicited clients by offering high returns that were detailed in bogus reports. He took a total of $1.3 million before the scheme unraveled in Jan. 1999. After Warshaw and the cops pressured Stern to pay back the money, he returned $800,000. Then he defaulted. On May 12, MPRPF sued Stern in Miami-Dade Circuit Court and alerted the FBI.

Nov. 2, 1999, voters will decide whether to accept the city commissioners’ proposal to drastically reform city government including getting rid of the city manager position. Note that the city manager before Warshaw was Cesar Odio who was removed from office and pled guilty to corruption charges in 1997. Note further that Odio appointed Warshaw police chief in July 1994. [Miami New Times 10/7/99]