In 1999, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announces the conclusion of the investigation of Miami City Commissioner Tomas Regalado regarding allegations of theft related to the use of a city vehicle. This investigation was initiated in response to a complaint forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office concerning whether Commissioner Regalado had illegally used or overused his city issued vehicle or gas credit card. The closeout being formally issued today clears Commissioner Regalado and brings this matter to a close. This is how the story went.
This investigation opened upon receipt of allegations that the subject, City of Miami Commissioner Tomas Regalado, Sr., may have committed a theft in misusing his city-issued gasoline credit card. City records indicated that the subject had utilized the card over a thirteen-month period for gas expenditures for his 1998 Jeep Cherokee which showed, depending on mileage per gallon on the vehicle that the subject was driving, approximately 50-80 miles per day, despite the fact that as a commissioner his official duties would only require him to drive relatively short distances to and from home, his private employment, and city hall, and for servicing constituents within his district of the city. On some occasions, records indicated that the subject filled his tank more than once on the same day; that he may have purchased diesel fuel, which his car does not utilize; and that he may have purchased more gas than the capacity of the tank on his city car. The records available showed that most of the purchases came from a local station, Mike’s Amoco on Coral Way.
CITY POLICY RE: USE OF CITY VEHICLE
The subject chose to accept the city vehicle rather than a $900 per month stipend from the city. It was determined that the issuance of the city car and credit card to the subject was on a 24-hour unlimited basis. The subject was apparently allowed to utilize the car and city-paid gas for both business and unlimited personal usage. This was the subject’s version of what he was told by city officials upon being issued the car, as well as what this writer was able to determine from speaking with the city attorney and reviewing city records. While the issuance of city cars from some other city employees seems to have been limited to city business, the issuance of the vehicle to the subject does not appear to be covered by such a restriction. There is no document, resolution, order or ordinance which clearly articulates this liberal policy. However, the understanding, confirmed by the city attorney, is that no restrictions apply regarding usage of the vehicle. The subject would have been entitled pursuant to this policy to drive an unlimited number of miles in the vehicle for any purpose whatsoever, and to charge to the city all gas bills connected to such travel. Therefore, the fact that the subject may have driven an excessive number of miles in the city vehicle does not, by itself, indicate any theft or abuse of the public privilege granted to him.
During the course of the investigation the vehicle driven by the subject was tested to determine the approximate mileage it was getting. This was done in order to determine whether it was possible for the vehicle to have used the overall amount of gas consumed, or whether another vehicle must have been involved. Regalado claimed to have been getting only 9-11 miles per gallon, less than the 14 gallons the Cherokee should receive according to its specifications from the manufacturer. This disparity, if true, would help explain the excessive amount of gas apparently consumed by the vehicle. The analysis was done in two ways. First, the subject’s own driving mileage and gas consumption were monitored by Investigator Gary Schiaffo for about two weeks. Schiaffo checked the mileage and the amount of gas at each fill-up during this period. This monitoring showed the vehicle receiving slightly under 10 miles per gallon. Next, Investigator Schiaffo actually drove the vehicle himself for about 2 weeks. Based on Investigator Schiaffo’s experience in driving the vehicle, the vehicle showed approximately 10-13 miles per gallon. It should be noted that, during the period for which the car received 13 miles to the gallon, Investigator Schiaffo reported that he was doing primarily highway driving, which could account for the higher mileage. In any event, the low mileage that the vehicle received per gallon of gas would appear to be in the range claimed by the subject. Any discrepancy in the amount of gas consumed for the mileage received is not significant enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the gas card was being used for other than the city vehicle. During the course of this investigation, this writer received information from a citizen who reported that, when purchasing gas at Mike’s Amoco, he found that on one occasion he had been charged for 25 gallons when, in fact, he had purchased and received only 22 gallons. That individual suggested that the pumps at the station could be inaccurate. As a result of this information the Florida Department of Agriculture was requested to check the pumps. That check showed the pumps to be working accurately. An additional issue raised by the evidence is the fact that the specifications for the 1998 Jeep Cherokee driven by the subject show a gas tank capacity of 23 gallons, whereas, city records indicate that the subject charged up to 25 gallons of gas to the vehicle. However, Investigator Schiaffo reported that while he was driving the vehicle during the investigation, he also charged approximately 25 gallons on one occasion when he filled the tank at Mike’s Amoco. If this did not result from an inaccuracy in the pump, then the vehicle does have a capacity larger than 23 gallons. Either explanation would suffice to account for the subject’s charges.
Investigator Schiaffo interviewed Mr. Miguel Labrada, owner of Mike’s Amoco. Mr. Labrada reported that he has only seen Mr Regalado in the city vehicle, and that he recalled that the subject’s city gas card had only been used to fill that vehicle at his station. As for any purchase of diesel fuel at Mike’s Amoco, Mr. Labrada reported that he does not have a diesel pump, and that any indication in city records that diesel fuel was purchased at his station would be erroneous.
STATEMENTS OF TOMAS REGALADO, SR. AND FAMILY MEMBERS
Sworn statements were taken from the subject, his wife, Raquel Regalado, his son, Tomas Regalado, Jr., and daughter, Raquel Arora Del Carmen Regalado. The subject and members of his family each appeared voluntarily and without the compulsion of subpoena. No promises of immunity or any other benefit were made to induce them to cooperate. The subject stated that, except for very rare occasions that other members of his family may have used the city vehicle in an emergency, he alone drove and gassed up the car. He said no other persons ever utilized the city credit card. According to the subject, he drove the car every day, often putting on many miles driving through and around the district, to and from his job at a local radio station, to city hall and to pick up his younger son at school. He said that, due to the early hours of his private employment, he was often able to attend to constituent matters by driving around during the day looking at problems and speaking to constituents. He said that he often left the car running, with the air-conditioning turned up, and that he was aware that the car was a “gas guzzler”. He pointed out that he had put approximately 20,000 miles on the car in 13 months of driving, far more than the average driver. The subject claimed that the only place he ever purchased gas was at Mike’s Amoco, which is located a short distance from his home. He maintained this position despite records showing that his city credit card was used to purchase gas in Hialeah, Miami Springs, Davie, Cooper City, Pembroke Pines and Punta Gorda, Florida. He said that he had not traveled to Punta Gorda and that he had no business or personal reasons to travel to or purchase gas at these latter locations. He could not explain the fact that such bills were charged on his card, and speculated that they had been entered in error. Unlike the bills at Mike’s Amoco, which had been personally signed for by Regalado, the latter charges appeared to have occurred at the pump, and, therefore, did not generate a record of a signature approving the payment. Investigator Schiaffo was unable to find evidence that would have explained this serious discrepancy. Inasmuch as the use of the car and credit card were not limited geographically to city business, there is no apparent benefit to the subject to falsely deny that he had incurred the out-of-town charges. In fact, admission to such trips would have assisted him in explaining the extensive mileage on the vehicle. The only lengthy out-of-town trip that the subject could recall taking with the vehicle was to Orlando. No gas bills charged from Orlando were located. The subject said that he believed that he had paid cash for all gas purchased there, because he did not think it right to use the city credit card at that location. The subject admitted that he had sometimes purchased gas twice during one day, particularly on days when there may have been a special discount on premium gas. He denied, however, that he ever purchased gas on three or four occasions on the same day. When confronted with records showing that he had signed for four charges in one day, he speculated that it was the result of a mistake by whomever had manually recorded the charges at the gas station. He pointed out that, at Mike’s Amoco one cannot swipe a credit card through at the pump, and, therefore, each purchase must be recorded manually. The subject felt that the practice of manually processing the card at Mike’s had resulted in errors in dating the billing records. He speculated that the date stamp showing the date of purchase was not always changed promptly by station personnel, which may have caused some of the multiple billings. Investigator Schiaffo spoke with the station owner concerning this possibility, but was unable to corroborate or refute it. The subject denied that the card was ever used to pay for gas purchased by other family members for other cars. He acknowledged that his daughter often purchased gas at Mike’s Amoco without paying at the time of purchase. He stated that he would usually pay the bills she accumulated by check, and was able to produce a number of canceled checks to substantiate this practice. The station owner, Mr. Labrada, also corroborated the subject on this point. The subject’s family members generally corroborated the subject’s statement. Both Mrs. Regalado and her daughter acknowledged having used the vehicle on a couple of rare occasions, but both of them, as well as Tomas Regalado, Jr., denied ever using the city credit card or ever being aware that it was ever used for purchases that they had made. The daughter, Raquel Regalado, had worked as a volunteer in the subject’s commission office, and was familiar with his practice of driving daily around his city district, often idling the car with the air-conditioning running. None of the family members was aware of any business that the subject had conducted in Broward County or in Punta Gorda. The subject’s children claimed to have been unaware of the existence of the city credit card until the issue of their father’s usage of it had become public. Other city records were reviewed and leads pursued, but without success in developing other evidence that would have either discredited the subject’s position or conclusively answered the questions raised by the conflicting evidence.
There is insufficient evidence to establish any criminal charges against the subject. The low mileage obtained by the vehicle in question is the probable reason for most of the questioned gas consumption. It remains puzzling that the subject could have put as many miles on the city car as he did from local driving alone, but that issue is not material to this investigation since the subject’s use of the vehicle was not limited by any city policy. No direct evidence that the subject utilized the credit card for other than his city vehicle has been found. The circumstantial nature of any discrepancy between the miles logged on the vehicle and the gas charges is insufficient to prove a theft, particularly in view of the wide latitude given to the subject concerning use of the vehicle. The unexplained gas bills from outside of the city are also of concern to this writer, but do not provide any proof of wrongdoing. This is so particularly because of the city’s extremely liberal policy concerning usage of the city vehicle for personal reasons. However, it would be appropriate for the City of Miami Police Department to continue this aspect of the investigation in order to determine whether anyone other than the subject is responsible for these charges to the city.
Given the available evidence, the unlimited nature of the city’s unwritten and open-ended motor vehicle policy provides a built-in defense to any allegation that such a privilege was abused. This investigation is closed.