January 25, 2020
Questions about Joe Carollo’s military record spark City Hall controversy
By Joey Flechas

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo has come under fire from the city’s police union over accusations the commissioner has misrepresented his service — or lack thereof, his critics suspect — in the U.S. Marine Corps. 

The issue sparked several contentious exchanges at Thursday’s commission meeting, fueling a rift between Carollo and the union and drawing apparent battle lines between the commissioner and City Manager Emilio Gonzalez. A few dozen Miami police officers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “stolen valor patrol” came to press Carollo for answers about his time in the Marines.

On a day with a long agenda, where several substantial issues were deferred to another meeting, part of the morning was spent on Carollo’s response to the suspicions, including a moment where he made Gonzalez read an honorable discharge certificate in front of a packed chamber.

The controversy has simmered since July, when at an event honoring veterans at the city’s administration building downtown, Gonzalez introduced Carollo as a “Marine Corps veteran.” When Carollo took the mic, he clarified.

“What the city manager forgot to say is I was in the inactive reserve,” Carollo said at that event. “So don’t put me in the front lines, Mr. Manager.”

Speculation snowballed afterward in local blogs, community newspapers and from Marine veterans, including several in Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police. Carollo remained quiet, only sending occasional tweets that taunted skeptics with images of uniformed Marines, cartoons of soldiers on golf courses and even a clip of Jack Nicholson shouting his famous “You can’t handle the truth” line from the film “A Few Good Men.”

Near the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, Carollo spoke up. He showed a DD 256 certificate that he said proved his service in the Marine Corps. The paper, which was dated July 25, 1974, marks Carollo’s honorable discharge from the Marines. He had Gonzalez read the certificate to a packed City Hall chamber — foreshadowing an accusation he would later hurl at the manager — before submitting copies of the certificate to the city clerk to create a public record.

The Miami Herald could not independently verify the authenticity of the certificate right away. Before Thursday’s meeting, a spokeswoman for the Marines based in Quantico confirmed to the Miami Herald that Carollo is listed in an electronic database, indicating he was paid as a Marine for at least one day. Because the records are from the mid-1970s, any further documentation is physically kept at the National Archives and Records Administration in St. Louis. The Herald has not yet received a response to a public records request made to Archives for additional documents to shed light on Carollo’s service.

Carollo later told the Herald he would never claim he was a veteran, because he only briefly served in the inactive reserve. He said he felt he was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by his political opponents, including Gonzalez, the city manager. When asked if he completed basic training, Carollo declined to comment and said he’s not going to respond to his critics’ provocations.

“The military will give you what they give you. I don’t want to get into that,” he told a reporter. “I have presented to you that I was honorably discharged.”

Among those critics, Carollo believes, is Gonzalez. 

“Are you proud, Mr. Manager?” said Carollo, referring to the turnout of those wearing the T-shirts. “Semper fi.”

“Sir, is that an accusation?” Gonzalez responded.

Carollo said he’d deal with that later. That never happened Thursday — the meeting dragged on to almost midnight with several other discussions and votes, and Carollo asked to defer his discussion to a future date.

Some of the most fervent criticism came from Javier Ortiz, a Miami police captain, former union president and controversial figure in his own right. Ortiz has been the subject of numerous complaints, ranging from excessive force to stalking. The pair exchanged insults during the public comment period.