Pushed to the Edge? - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco

Pushed to the Edge?

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WSVN -- Posts and a concrete slab are all that remain of a burned-down building. To Manny Rivero, the rubble represents the destruction of a man.

Manny Rivero, Upset with DERM: "He was a quiet, beaten man. He was a beaten man."

Manny says his neighbor and friend was facing mounting fines from Miami-Dade County over nursery and farmland he owned.

Manny Rivero: "$100,000 for this, $200,000 dollars for that. I know for a fact that he dismantled three of his properties, and that cost him a fortune."

And almost cost him his life. Manny says the husband and father tried to kill himself by driving into a structure on his property and setting it on fire.

Manny Rivero: "I don't think there is any doubt that the pressure he has been feeling over the last year from the government led him to do what he did. I have no doubt about that."

Carmel Cafiero: "And what do you think of that?"

Manny Rivero: "I think it's disgusting."

He is not alone. Other farmers and nurseries in the area say the county is putting the same kind of pressure on them.

Alice Pena: "There are 400 cases of abuse by DERM in the 8.5-square-mile area."

A 7 News investigation in 2009 revealed property owners in western Miami-Dade claimed they were being victimized by DERM: the Department of Environmental Resources Management.

Many were facing fines and destruction of their property after the county classified their land as environmentally-sensitive wetlands.

Owners contend it's a land grab.

Man: "If you want to call it wetland, and they have the power to do so, then call the whole Dade County wetland."

Commissioner Lynda Bell listened.

She brought property owners and DERM's director Carlos Espinosa together for a face-to-face meeting.

Man: "My characterization of the organization is one of the most predatory agencies I've ever dealt with, after the IRS."

The county maintains it is protecting the environment.

Carlos Espinosa, Director, DERM: "None of these things are personal in my part."

Man: "Bull (expletive)."

Carlos Espinosa: "You make it personal. I don't make it personal."

Aida Fernandez, Fired Up: "We ask that Carlos Espinosa, director of DERM, be forced out from his position of power and abuse now!"

Despite calls for his resignation, Espinosa told 7 News he had no plans to step down.

Carlos Espinosa: "No. I'm on the job, I'm a professional, we have a professional organization."

Commissioner Bell thinks DERMs enforcement practices should be investigated.

Commissioner Lynda Bell, Miami-Dade County, District 8: "I like the idea of a task force. I like the idea of looking into these cases. Is there a theme here? Is something going on? Is there something more than meets the eye?"

Carmel Cafiero, Investigative Reporter: "And now, it looks like property owners will get what they were hoping for. Carlos Espinosa is stepping down, saying he will retire next month, something DERM says he's been considering for quite some time."

IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE:Miami-Dade: 305-627-CLUEBroward: 954-921-CLUE E-mail: clue@wsvn.com 

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