Investigation

Miami Priest Accused Of Hiring School Maintenance Worker Who Was Once Arrested For Prostitution

UPDATED- May 26, 5:25 PM EST

BREAKING- Father Pedro Corces has been asked to step down as the pastor of St. Rose of Lima according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Miami.

The principal of the school Sister Bernadette Keane has also been replaced by a Archdiocese official for the reminder of the school year

The announcements came in a letter emailed to parents at St. Rose on Thursday afternoon.

In it, Archbishop Thomas Wenski announced that he has asked for Father Pedro Corces to step down as pastor of St. Rose of Lima in an effort to fix the “fractured” spirit and unity at the church and its associated school after a group of parents and a private investigator published a 129 dossier of information filled with allegations against Father Corces.

This is developing and this story will be updated. 

Read the full statement from Archbishop Thomas Wenski:

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Original Story: 

A group of concerned parents at St. Rose Of Lima School in Miami Shores have accused their parish priest, Father Pedro Corces, of putting children at the school in “grave danger” after he allegedly hired a man as a school maintenance worker who was once arrested on prostitution charges.

That allegation and many others were made in a 129 page “dossier” of information prepared by a group of parents at the school organized under the name of Christifidelis @ Saint Rose of Lima Miami Shores.

The group also paid a private investigator over $3,500 to surveil Father Corces to help them build a case against him. Once they could no longer afford the investigator’s services, parents took to surveilling Father Corces on their own.

The document was leaked to RISE NEWS on Friday afternoon and it alleges that Father Corces is in a relationship with a school maintenance worker named Juan Alberto Cardenas.

The group and the private investigator both assert that Cardenas has been arrested on three separate occasions including in 2000 after he allegedly offered oral sex to an undercover police officer for $15.

The private investigator said that he got a hold of Cardenas’ date of birth and then matched his mugshot photos to those found on social media and through surveillance to ensure it was the same person.

Cardenas was also arrested in 2002 on a charge of uttering forged bills and in 2004 for making false insurance claims.

The document also alleges that Father Corces takes frequent expensive vacations, sometimes with Cardenas and that he often spends the night at Cardenas’ condo where he pays for his employee’s cable bill.

 MARCH 11, 2016 (FRIDAY NIGHT): After dinner, Father Pedro and Alberto Cardenas went to the Flamingo Theater Bar to watch a show by Cuban signer Carlos Varela. Below are three photographs taken by the bar’s official photographer.

This photo taken on March 11, 2016 shows Father Pedro Corces (L) and Alberto Cardenas (R) at the Flamingo Theater Bar where they watched a show by Cuban signer Carlos Varela. Photo Credit: Christifidelis

Christifidelis is a group of “faithful Catholics” according to group spokesperson Rosa Armesto.

Most of them have children at the school and they take the name of their group from a similar effort of unrelated activists who worked to uncover what they called a “homosexual super culture” in the Archdiocese of Miami in 2005.

The original Christifidelis came to national prominence after Gawker published their findings in 2011.

Many of the allegations Christifidelis leveled at Father Corces surround his sexuality and some of the document can read as being anti-gay.

RISE NEWS has only decided to report on some of the allegations after confirming the group’s findings with the private investigator involved in the investigation.

Background

Father Corces first came under scrutiny from some members of the St. Rose community after the shock announcement in January that the nuns that have run the school since 1981 were being asked to leave. Parents rebelled and demanded answers but received little in the way of clarification.

Read More: “SAVE OUR SISTERS”: The Nuns At This Miami Shores Catholic School Are Leaving After 35 Years, And People Are Really Mad About It

While publicly supporting the Archdiocese’s line that they had been asked to withdraw from St. Rose by the Motherhouse in Pennsylvania due to the declining supply of sisters in the United States, some of the nuns were privately telling parents that Father Corces had pushed them out.

As a result, the community became divided between the side of the nuns and that of the parish priest.

Some even feel that Father Corces lied to them about the situation and that he tried to stop parents from talking about it.

“There is undeniably a reign of intimidation from Fr. Pedro Corces,” Armesto said in a phone interview.

The Hunt For Answers

Christifidelis took serious actions in order to build their case about Father Corces.

Some of the information was gathered when a family that lives next to the rectory allowed cameras to be placed in rooms in their house to surveil activities there.

From that source and others, the group was able to determine that many people were coming and going into the rectory at all hours of the night, raising suspicions about who actually lives there.

“We’ve seen people over there who are not priests,” the man who owns the home next to the rectory said in an interview. He gave his name but asked for it not to be published after his wife objected. “A lot of weird things have been going on. It doesn’t look right.”

Other neighbors didn’t want to talk about the situation but one said that he hadn’t really noticed anything out of the ordinary since Father Corces had moved there a few years ago.

But according to the family that allowed their house to become a surveillance outpost, things are different.

“We used to have a little community thing for all of us that lived around the lake. We always had a Christmas get together. But since this guy [Father Corces] came here, things changed.”

Christifidelis also searched the trash left outside of the rectory on numerous occasions, where it claimed to find a tax form for a massage business that Cardenas runs.

“The fact that such form was filled in the rectory also suggests a closer relationship between Father Pedro and Alberto Cardenas than the usual boss‐subordinate relationship,” Christifidelis wrote in the report. “It also raises the question as to whether Father Pedro provides tax or financial advice of some type.”

A high-ranking school official who wished to remain anonymous due to concerns over potential retribution said that she became frustrated after discovering that there was no contact information on record for the maintenance workers.

She also said that it was widely known that three of the maintenance workers including Cardenas have keys to the rectory, which was not standard practice before the new workers were hired.

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Surveillance photos allegedly showing Cardenas entering rectory. Photo Credit: Christifidelis

Cardenas was hired in 2015 as a worker at the school according to Christifidelis, about a year and a half after Father Corces fired a “significant portion” of the longstanding maintenance staff.

The firings came around Christmas of 2014 and were a surprise to many in the community.

Little information about the maintenance staff can be found on the school’s website.

In fact, on the “Staff Pictures 2016” page, four of the maintenance staff are the only people without pictures included. Cardenas’ name is not even on the page.

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The maintenance staff has seemed to take a more low-key role in the life of the school since Father Corces fired most of them in 2014.

The new crew, including Cardenas has never appeared in the St. Rose yearbook for example, one of the few moments when a parent can physically see all the people who work around their children.

But a review of St. Rose yearbooks going back to 2008 shows that the maintenance staff were always included in the staff pictures section except for in 2015 and 2016.

Armesto, the Christifidelis spokesperson claimed that she saw a pre published version of the 2016 yearbook and that in it were the names of the maintenance workers without pictures. However, the final published version of the book does not include the names or pictures of the workers.

A group of parents at the school had hoped to hold a rosary prayer session before the 9 AM Mass on May 22 in order to pray for the “well-being of the parish”. It happened to also be the 28th anniversary of Father Corces’ ordination into the priesthood.

However they were not allowed to pray after being told by a priest that they needed to clear any sort of demonstration with the Archbishop.

When reached for comment via phone, Archdiocese spokesperson Mary Ross Agosta started laughing and said “Oh, you again,” to a RISE NEWS reporter.

When asked about the contents of the Christifidelis report, Ross Agosta refused to talk about them.

Ross Agosta then said that she had nothing to say and hung up the phone.

RISE NEWS has been unable to speak to Father Corces or Alberto Cardenas.

UPDATE #1- The Broward Palm Beach New Times is reporting that the Archdiocese of Miami has “initiated” an “investigation in accordance with canon law” into the accusations made against Father Corces.

UPDATE #2- St. Rose school officials sent home a letter to parents on Tuesday afternoon announcing that some “lay employees”- presumably some of the maintenance men have been placed on administrative leave by Archbishop Wenski pending an ongoing investigation into the allegations.

Here is the text of the full letter sent home to parents:

“Allegations of misconduct at St. Rose of Lima Parish not involving minors were brought to Archbishop Thomas Wenski last week. The Archbishop takes the allegations seriously. In accordance with canon law and Archdiocesan policies, the Archbishop immediately initiated an investigation that is ongoing. At the present time Father Corces is attending a previously scheduled retreat. The lay employees in question have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Read The Full Report

Have a tip about this story or something similar? Send us an email to editor@risenews.net. 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Miami’s Shame: Little Farm Trailer Park Sinks Into Slum As Chinese Land Owners Ignore Resident’s Plight

The closest that most of the world has come to the Little Farm was during the pilot episode of HBO’s original series Ballers.

In the show, retired NFL player Charles Greane works as a salesman at the very real Tropical Chevrolet car dealership (8800 Biscayne Blvd) before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson swoops in to convince him to get back on the field.

But three blocks away at the Little Farm trailer park in El Portal (8500 Biscayne Blvd), the HBO cameras wouldn’t dream of going. No luxury to be found there. Just unspeakable despair.

There, one of Miami’s former great working class neighborhoods has been turned into a slum by years of bad landlords and poor governmental oversight.

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Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

The Little Farm is not talked about much- mostly because few people seem to know about it and even fewer care.

There’s lots of poor people in Miami and the area’s middle class is somewhat used to the idea that poverty is close to home.

Homeless men and women are a ubiquitous site at most I-95 off ramps in the area, meaning that it is near impossible to avoid the thought of abject poverty on your daily commute.

And yet, we ignore it and go home to our comfortable lives filled with Netflix and minor inconveniences.

But the Little Farm is different.

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Empty trailer at the Little Farm in El Portal. Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

I’ve lived six minutes away my entire life and didn’t know about it until a few months ago when one of our reporters wrote about it.

And even then, I didn’t fully comprehend what was happening there until I got off my ass and drove into the development last week.

“They Didn’t Tell Us Nothing”

Clairmise Blanc is fed up.

A youthful looking Haitian woman in her early 70’s, Blanc is the defacto point person for outsiders to the Little Farm. She also lives right next to a burnt out trailer that stinks to high heavens.

“My husband died on April 22, 2011 and left me here alone,” Blanc said to me, causing me to pause and offer my condolences. “I’d like to live here. But there’s no future in this. Everything is down, especially at the nighttime. Too many people are drug addicts here. I don’t like it no more. I’ve tried to find other places to go.”

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Clairmise Blanc. Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

Born in Haiti, she moved to the United States in 1981 and has lived at the Little Farm for eight years. She owns her own trailer, but it is poor shape, with holes in the windows and a sagging look to it. She also pays $450 a month for the trailer to sit on her small plot.

At one time, hundreds of trailers dotted the 17 acre property, but after a Chinese company bought the property last year, people started getting evicted. Then came the buy out offers– $2,000 to up and leave.

If you didn’t take the deal, it wouldn’t matter much because you had to leave under the terms of a deal the Village of El Portal signed with the Chinese company- Wealthy Delight.

From a Miami New Times report on Little Farm a few months ago:

“One day last February, everything changed. Little Farm was sold for $14.25 million, and Wealthy Delight, a company based in Coral Gables but whose owners are difficult to trace, took over. Soon it became clear the Village of El Portal had agreed to forgive more than $8 million in liens on the site if the new owners paid $575,000 and razed the mobile home park.”

Many people took the buy outs and soon their trailers were razed.

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A lot where a trailer once stood. Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

Legal action has delayed the complete eviction of the remaining residents at Little Farm, but only around 40 people remain according to Blanc. And they will all certainty will be pushed out in the coming months.

“They didn’t tell us nothing,” Blanc said. “They’ve tried to push us away. It’s not fair.”

The Fire

According to multiple witnesses, a fire broke out in a Little Farm trailer on the evening of February 19th.

“It was a mother, son and a daughter was living in there,” Blanc said.

While no one was hurt, the fire was intense and devastating.

The family living there had to move- one less eviction for Wealthy Delight to conduct.

Blanc’s trailer sits less than 15 feet away from the burnt out trailer. Nearly two months after the blaze, little has been cleaned up and the smell is starting to become unbearable for the remaining residents in the area.

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Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

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Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

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Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

“I’m tired of that smell, it just stinks,” Blanc said. “I want them to clean this thing. It is a mess. People can’t live like this.”

I start to cough after the breeze picks up and I notice how disgusting the burnt out remnants really are.

“That’s the office right there,” Blanc said while pointing towards the land lord management building across the road.

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The view of the burnt out trailer from Blanc’s trailer. Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

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The view of the burnt out trailer (behind the trees) from the porch of the land lord management building. Photo Credit: Rich Robinson/ RISE NEWS.

The burnt out unit is directly in front of the office, which means that the land lord would have to see it everyday as they arrive for work.

“They don’t care,” Blanc said of Wealthy Delight. “You think if they cared, they would have cleaned it a long time ago. But it’s been two months now. If they cared, they would have cleaned it because people are living here.

I ask her if she thinks the trailer hasn’t been cleaned up as a way to get her to move.

She demurs and says that in order for her to leave they are going to have to fork out more money.

El Portal Village Manager Jason Walker told RISE NEWS that he had not been aware of the fire but that it was the landlord’s responsibility to clean it up.

A representative for Wealthy Delight refused to answer questions on the phone and asked for questions via email, which they have also not answered.

Have a tip? Email us at editor@risenews.net. 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us

All Photo Credits: Rich Robinson/RISE NEWS.

Students Say FIU Art Classrooms Are Filled With Mold, Broken Equipment

This story was originally published on April 7, 2015.

By Alexandra Del Canto

Art students at Florida International University say they are forced to learn in dirty and potentially unsafe educational spaces.  At the Modesto A. Maidique Campus in southwest Miami-Dade County, art students are routinely crowded into small portable classrooms while other students enjoy new facilities on campus.

Some say they are have to stand up during classes due to a lack of seating while others sit on desks. Some FIU students say that the conditions in which they are expected to learn in on a daily basis are in fact unsafe. Reports of mold in classrooms, dirty bathrooms, broken and rusting equipment and water damage are rampant.

“We deserve better, we’re the same as everyone else,” Maximo Yejo a senior art student said. “We’re here to get an education, we’re paying our dues.”

Here is what our Rise Miami News investigation found on the FIU campus.

“Please Leave AC at 70 Studio Needs Air to Prevent More Mold.” Sign in W9 building.

Sign in W9 building.

 

Mold collecting on ceiling in W9.

Mold collecting on ceiling in W9.

 

Ventilation in art studio W9

Ventilation in art studio W9

In the photography labs, students practice printing black and white and color pictures. Students also use these facilities to develop black and white film. All of these film processes entail exposure to chemicals, which are extremely toxic to inhale and touch. With proper and clean facilities, it is easier to limit exposure to these harmful chemicals and limit the chance of spreading them beyond the bounds of the photography lab rooms. Clean facilities are crucial to producing photographic work, as the film developing and printing process is very delicate.

Black and white photography classroom where students meet for lectures and hang their work to be critiqued.

Black and white photography classroom where students meet for lectures and hang their work to be critiqued.

“The walls are covered in chemicals, most of the sinks are rusted and are also stained. A lot of the flooring in the printing room has either been soaked through already or is falling apart,” Nick Suarez, an FIU junior said. “There’s not a whole lot of good enlargers, [machinery for projecting film to make prints] most of them are either half way broken or dirty. We don’t have a lot of space, we don’t have a real classroom aside from one table with a couple of chairs. We don’t even have a wall to put stuff up on.  We have planks of cork-board that we put things into and just cover up walls with doors.”

Close up of one of the panels (cork boards) that students hang their photographs on to present to the class. There is no wall space so the boards are lined up and lean against the wall.

Close up of one of the panels (cork boards) that students hang their photographs on to present to the class. There is limited wall space so the boards are lined up and lean against the wall.

 

Chemical stains pouring down walls and on counters where students work with photographs and film.

Chemical stains pouring down walls and on counters where students work with photographs and film.

 

Rotting wood holds up cleaning equipment.

Rotting wood holds up cleaning equipment.

 

Chemicals eroding shelf and floor, the outside of the containers are contaminated as well.

Chemicals eroding shelf and floor, the outside of the containers are contaminated as well.

 

Rusted student lockers in darkroom.

Rusted student lockers in darkroom.

 

Where color photography classes of up to 35 students meet for class and present their work. Some students stand up due to lack of space. (Photo blurred intentionally to conceal identities of students.)

Where color photography classes meet and present their work. Some students stand up due to lack of space. (Photo blurred intentionally to conceal identities of students.)

“We have a whole bunch of things that don’t work and we can’t use,” Alex Ballester, a junior art student said. “We’re [FIU] all about education, bringing a better education to Miami and making a good name for FIU and we’re doing the complete opposite.”

UPDATED: April 9, 2015

In an email sent this morning to faculty, staff, and students of Florida International University’s College of Architecture + The Arts, (CARTA) a university leader promised sweeping changes and reform to dirty and potentially unsafe classrooms that art majors use.

CARTA dean Brian Schriner said in the memo that his college is working collaboratively with FIU to fix the problems first brought to light in a Rise Miami News investigation.

“Our primary concern continues to be the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” Schriner said. “We are fortunate to have instructional space that is state-of-the-art; however, we also have to address issues with facilities that require our attention.”

Art students at FIU said they are forced to learn in dirty educational spaces at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus. The students are routinely crowded into small portable classrooms that often have signs of mold, water damage and are littered with broken and rusting equipment.

“We deserve better, we’re the same as everyone else,” Maximo Yejo a senior art student said. “We’re here to get an education, we’re paying our dues.”

In the statement, Schriner said that his team is committed to completing a number of repairs and maintenance by July 1, 2015, “Including replacing worn furniture and painting interior spaces, with particular attention to the facilities of the Department of Art + Art History and the Department of Theatre.”

“Moving forward and in alignment with the College’s strategic plan, we will be investing in the College’s infrastructure, facilities, equipment, and technology,” Schriner said. “This summer I will present Provost Furton with a proposal to renovate existing and construct new facilities. It’s my goal to ensure that our facilities reflect the excellence of our faculty, students, and programs.”

Schriner said that FIU students are welcomed to email him questions and comments about the changes to carta@fiu.edu.

Authorities Investigating Potential Criminal Wrongdoing In Miami Shores Charter School Scandal

Rise News has learned that there is an ongoing investigation into allegations that members of the supervisory board of a Miami area charter school may have criminally violated Florida Sunshine Laws.

One of the members of the board at the time of the alleged law violations was the current Mayor of Miami Shores, Alice Burch.

At least two members of the Doctors Charter School (DCS) Board of Directors and a high-ranking school official have been subpoenaed and interviewed by an Assistant State Attorney and an investigator with the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission.

Sources close to the investigation indicate that the inquiry is focused around the events of the controversial non-renewal of contract of DCS Executive Director Nick Dorn.

DCS is a highly rated charter school with 600 students nestled in the sleepy neighborhood of Miami Shores.

Rise Miami News, the predecessor website to Rise News first broke the story of the scandal in June of 2015 and showed that Burch had improperly coordinated with a few other members of the unpaid DCS board to remove Dorn in a secret meeting.

From our original report on the matter:

“Rise Miami News has learned that Burch supplied DCS board members meeting in the ‘shade’ a dossier of information that she had been collecting for over eight months, meant to act as justification for the non-renewal of the school director’s contract.

Burch has also admitted to violating state Sunshine Laws by continuing to volunteer as the de-facto secretary of the DCS board of directors while serving as the acting mayor of the Village.

Burch apologized to the Miami Shores community at a Village Council meeting on June 2 but did not discuss her level of involvement in the dismissal of Nick Dorn, the director of DCS.”

Due to the public outrage, Dorn was eventually offered a contract and a raise. Dorn accepted the contract extension but did not agree to a raise. He is currently leading the school.

DCS board meeting in June.

DCS board meeting in June. Photo Credit: Rise News

Read More: Miami Shores Mayor Actively Advocated For Removal Of Charter School Head In Closed Door Letter

While Burch did not vote in the secret meeting, she openly discussed the idea of not renewing Dorn’s contract with members of the board both before and immediately after the “shade” meeting.

Additional public records including text messages show the extent of communications between Burch and other board members. It also showed how important Burch was to the lifeblood of the board and therefore potentially to the Sunshine Law violations she later admitted to.

Read More: Text Messages, Emails Bring Into Focus Influential Role Miami Shores Mayor Played In DCS Scandal

According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the matter, the inquiry is being headed up by Assistant State Attorney Luis Perez-Medina and Miami-Dade Ethics Commission investigator Larry Lebowitz.

Perez-Medina works out of the Public Corruption Unit under Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle while Lebowitz, a former Miami Herald reporter works under Joseph Centorino, the longtime former head of the Public Corruption Unit and current director of the county Ethics Commission.

Neither the State Attorney’s office or Ethics Commission would confirm or deny that there is an ongoing investigation.

Paul Calli, an attorney and current member of the DCS board first blew the whistle on the “shade” meeting in a series of Facebook posts last spring.

In June, Calli filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission alleging that there had been violations of Section 286.011 of Florida Statutes, also known as the Sunshine Laws.

The Commission referred the complaint to the State Attorney as it said that it does not have jurisdiction over Sunshine Laws.

Miami Shores Mayor Alice Burch. Photo Credit: Alice Burch/Facebook

Miami Shores Mayor Alice Burch. Photo Credit: Alice Burch/Facebook

“The rules should not and cannot be different for elected officials and Village administrators in Miami Shores,” Calli said in an interview with Rise News. “The residents of Miami Shores do not deserve to be excluded from the political process and government administration by elected or appointed officials who hold the trust of residents and voters.  The Shores is not a fiefdom, with its residents vassals.”

 

Mayor Burch did not respond to a request for comment.

Vice Mayor Steven Zelkowitz said that he was not aware of any investigation ongoing in Miami Shores but said that public officials should be careful of Sunshine Law violations.

“I live and breathe the Sunshine Law,” Zelkowitz, a lawyer who deals with many local municipalities in his practice said in a phone interview. “I’m very cognizant and I’m very careful with it. Maybe elected officials should read the laws and understand them before acting.”

Another member of the Village council had a similar view.

“What is important is what[ever] the investigation reveals, it will help bring closure and restore confidence in our leaders,” Councilwoman Ivonne Ledesma said in an email statement.

READ: The 14 page dossier of information Miami Shores Mayor Alice Burch presented to DCS board members before secret, “shade” meeting

Miami Shores Mayor Alice Burch’s “Shade” Letter by Rich

Like this piece? Rise News just launched a few weeks ago and is only getting started. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with global news. Have a news tip? (No matter how big or small!) Send it to us- editor@risenews.net. 

Cover Photo Credit: Rise News/ Rich Robinson

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