The Miami-Dade Inspector General has launched an inquiry into private consulting work by county Chief of Staff Denis Morales and several law enforcement officers who moonlighted as police trainers in Panama.
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust and the county's police department have also launched probes.
The investigations began after a Miami Herald report last week detailed how Morales took his regular salary from taxpayers while also working a week in Panama for Protection Strategies Inc., a private security firm based in Arlington, Va.
Mayoral spokeswoman Victoria Mallette declined to comment on the pending investigations Wednesday.
Morales worked the second job after receiving a hefty pay raise in March -- from $185,484 to $206,783 -- at time when the looming budget crunch foreshadowed mass layoffs and steep government cuts. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez defended his aide's pay hike, citing Morales' ``added responsibility and authority.''
When the newspaper asked Alvarez about Morales' double-dipping, the mayor initially defended his top aide. ``Nothing you have described for me is unlawful, improper or unethical,'' Alvarez wrote in an email. He added: ``Sharing knowledge with others is something that should be commended and encouraged.''
A day after the Dec. 8 Herald report, Alvarez said he was ``rather disappointed'' about the fact that Morales used paid leave instead of vacation time on that March trip to Panama. ``I would never have approved it,'' Alvarez said.
The mayor ordered Morales to dip into his large reserve of vacation days to repay eight days of paid leave he used, including the time spent in Panama.
Under Miami-Dade county rules, paid leave must be approved by an employee's supervisor. Alvarez is Morales' only supervisor.
The mayor signed an outside employment authorization allowing his chief of staff to work abroad. When asked if the mayor specifically approved the five days of paid leave that Morales took for a Panama trip in March, Mallette declined to comment.
Last week she suggested that Morales may have approved the paid leave on his own authority.
Both Inspector General Christopher Mazzella and ethics commission executive director Robert Meyers declined to comment Wednesday on their ongoing investigations.
The county police department has started a ``general investigation'' into officers' outside employment, said Maj. Veronica L. Ferguson, a Miami-Dade police spokeswoman.
She would not name the officers under scrutiny or describe the scope of the inquiry, but said Mayor Alvarez personally requested the investigation.
Morales, 43, worked in Panama as a paid consultant with three high-ranking officers in the county police department. Each of those officers also earned big raises in recent months.
They are Assistant Director Oscar Vigoa, Maj. Bernardo Gonzalez, who heads Miami-Dade's police training bureau, and South District Major Ariel Artime. None of the three could be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Typically, the ethics commission will examine whether a Miami-Dade official's second job conflicts with county duties, or whether they are exploiting their government position for personal gain.
The inspector general looks at the same issues but is also likely to look into whether county resources, personnel or funds were utilized to develop the training curriculum in Panama.
Morales spent 19 years in the Miami-Dade Police Department, not rising above the rank of sergeant. When Alvarez -- a former county police director -- became mayor in 2005, he named Morales as his chief of staff. The two men are old friends.
Morales, who declined to comment for this story, previously said he's traveled to Panama ``three or four times'' this year teaching weeklong courses on community policing and media relations.
Read the full story at the Miami Herald.