An Opa-locka official booted from office six years ago won’t be prosecuted for the crimes that got him thrown out in the first place. Banana Republican has learned that the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has quietly dropped multiple grand theft and official misconduct felony charges brought against Terence Pinder, Opa-Locka’s then-vice-mayor, in 2006. But Pinder still faces a slew of criminal charges in two other subsequent and separate public corruption probes. And he cannot regain his old seat on the Opa-Locka City Commission since the term has expired. Nevertheless, his attorney Ben Kuehne says his client is pleased with the outcome. “Mr. Pinder wishes this decision had been made much more sooner,” Kuehne says. “It was not a crime. It was a misunderstanding.” In exchange for getting the 2006 charges dropped, Pinder agreed to pay $2,000 in fines and investigative costs to the ethics commission and reimburse $3,000 he still owes the city of Opa-Locka.
Pinder was elected in 2004 by campaigning as a young reformer itching to clean up one of the poorest and most scandalous cities in Miami-Dade. But from the moment he took office, law enforcement authorities claimed, Pinder was stealing from taxpayers and lying about his sources of income. A joint investigation by the Miami-Dade ethics commission and the county police’s public corruption unit found that Pinder fibbed about being employed by local rap label Slip-n-Slide Records and on his personal financial disclosure statement.
The investigators also discovered he racked up $5,111 on his city-issued credit card on personal purchases in order to impress his then-girlfriend, a woman named Ginger Williams. For example, Pinder treated Williams to a three-night stay at El Palacio Hotel and Resort in Miami Gardens on Feb. 10, 2005. Cost to the taxpayers of Opa-Locka: $350.14. Other charges included spending $529 in meals at Applebee’s, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, and Red Lobster for Williams and her relatives.
Even though Pinder had been warned about the unauthorized expenses in late 2005 by the city’s finance director and had paid back $1,000 of what he owed, he continued to use his credit card like a piggy bank, the arrest warrant against him alleged. Pinder was arrested and removed from office in November 2006, shortly after his reelection.
A year later, Pinder was hit with more felonies, including three counts of unlawful compensation. Investigators accused him of taking kickbacks from a lobbyist in the form of cash pay-offs, child support payments and extended stays at El Palacio. Then in 2010, the state attorney leveled two racketeering felony charges at Pinder alleging he used his influence on the city commission to help steer $3.8 million in city projects to Nigerian businessman and engineer Emmanuel V. Nwadike. After pleading guilty this past September, Nwadike agreed to cooperate against Pinder. To gain the commissioner’s support, the engineer alleges he gave Pinder more than $20,000 in cash, furniture for his newborn son, and a 1991 Infiniti for Williams.
Kuehne insists Pinder will emerge victorious in the two pending cases. “He is looking forward to his continued vindication.”