Former Democrat mayoral candidate, two others charged with stealing $640,000 in grant money


MIAMI, FL — Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced the filing of criminal charges against three people who allegedly were involved in manipulating the process of awarding grants in Miami-Dade County.

The money scheme allegedly involved stealing $640,000 by utilizing the prestige of a County Commissioner’s Office, according to Rundle, who held a press conference on May 2.

Mac-kinley Lauriston, Nadine Chery and Evelt Jeudy used their positions to apply for and receive county grant money using names of legitimate county social services organizations that never knew about the applications, the state attorney said.

All three face charges including racketeering, organized fraud, grand theft, and unlawfully filing a false document, NBC Miami reported.

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Rundle said that Lauriston, the former chief of staff for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime’s district, was the most culpable and was facing “serious charges.”

Lauriston, who ran for mayor of the city of North Miami in 2018, is facing 55 counts against him, Rundle said.

Lauriston, 55, has held a series of government jobs over the years, including as chief of staff for Monestime and as an assistant to the vice mayor of Miramar. On his website, he says he spent 16 years working as a financial analyst and accountant for the transport company Ryder, according to a report by Miami Herald.

Rundle further noted:

“With these arrests we are alleging that these three individuals appear to have fallen prey to a temptation to steal Miami-Dade County money and property. It’s disappointing to see that there are still individuals who think that they can get away with stealing from the public.”

Prosecutor Carol Jordan added that Lauriston “had the power to grant grants or not. He had the power to decide the amount of the grant.”

Local 10 News reported that the arrest warrant revealed a complicated fraudulent scheme to take money away from those who needed it the most:

“Evelt Jeudy was Monestime’s district coordinator. Jeudy, 59, was arrested Friday and corrections officers booked him shortly after midnight Friday, records show. Jeudy’s alleged crimes go back to 2016.

“Nadine Chery, 51, was a branch manager at a Hollywood Wells Fargo bank, according to the state attorney.

“There were dozens and dozens of charges for each. For more than five years, says Rundle, Lauriston and Jeudy used a variety of ways to defraud the system.

“They would apply for cultural affairs grants, grants for kids and seniors, donations, even county reimbursements for fraudulent purchases.

“They received the money through corporations and at least one foundation they set up for that purpose, according to the arrest warrants. One foundation was originally at the same address as Commissioner Monestime’s district building in Miami. 

“The organizations may not have even known their names were being used.

“Monestime’s District 2 comprises some of the county’s poorest neighborhoods.”

NBC Miami reported:

“Rundle said the scheme to defraud the county revolved around misuse of the commissioner’s discretionary budget, which is generally used to go to groups, individuals, and institutions to benefit the community.

“According to a 54-page arrest warrant released Monday, one or more of the suspects was fraudulently awarded and then misappropriated discretionary grant funds from two charitable organizations, by telling them they were ‘fiscal agents,’ then ordering the bulk of the grant funds paid instead to third parties, including their own businesses.

“The suspects also misappropriated grant funds from a county cultural affairs reimbursement grant and illegally obtained county surplus property, including two homes and a van, the warrant said.

“They also solicited vendors to donate to a fraudulent charitable entity controlled by them, using the commissioner’s letterhead and county email, then misappropriated the donations for the benefit of themselves and others, the warrant said.”

Miami Herald reported on some details of the fraud:

“The commissioner’s office shelled out tens of thousands to the Little Haiti Optimist Foundation, a well-known nonprofit that helps youths in the neighborhood.

“But the nonprofit’s director, Marie Loussaint, told agents that the commissioner’s office pushed her to apply for grants — and that she was told she’d be acting as a ‘financial agent.’

In May 2016, records showed, the commissioner’s office directly paid expenses for food, entertainment and venue fees for the May 2016 Haitian Heritage Month celebration.

“But then, the Optimist Foundation, under grant-program rules, asked to be reimbursed for over $11,000 for those same fees — even though it had never paid any to begin with, according to an arrest warrant.

“In all, between 2016 and 2018, the foundation received nearly $90,000 in grants. But the foundation, at Lauriston’s direction, would write checks to various companies affiliated with the trio.

“The payments, as written on the checks, were purportedly for everything from turkey and toy giveaways to radio ads for Haitian cultural events and ‘marketing and consulting services,’ according to the warrant by IG Special Agent Bassam Fadel, who is handling the case with prosecutor Carol Jordan.

“In one case, prosecutors said Lauriston received over $4,500 in county tuition reimbursement, even though he had already directed the foundation to pay his bill from Florida International University for him.

“In another example, over $37,000 in grants went to a nonprofit called Youth Education Through Sports, a legitimate organization that largely relies on public funding to help support kids’ teams, particularly in soccer.

“The founder, Mario Apollon, told agents that he would receive grants, but then the aides would require him to write checks to the third parties.”

Miami-Dade Inspector General Felix Jimenez said of the charged trio:

“These individuals leveraged a position of trust and position of authority to steal the public’s money.”

Jimenez also noted that 10 community-based organizations and taxpayers were the victims:

“They were held hostage, if they did not participate, they would be cut off, and these are agencies that are trying to help the community, that are fearful that they are going to lose their funding, so they went along.”

Local 10 News further reported:

“There is no evidence that Commissioner Monestime knew about these actions, Rundle said. Local 10 News texted Monestime, who answered that he is not at liberty to comment because it is an open investigation.

“We asked Rundle who it was that tipped off prosecutors to all of this seven months ago and are any other arrests or charges against more people on the horizon? She said that information is not public at this time.”

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