Ex-Rep. Arza pleads guilty to tampering, gets probation

Former state Rep. Ralph Arza was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty, but he said he never threatened anyone.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published May 25, 2007


Former state Rep. Ralph Arza pleaded guilty Thursday to two misdemeanor counts of tampering with a witness and was sentenced to 18 months of probation.


He also agreed not to run for office for 18 months -- meaning he won't be eligible for state office again until 2010 because of the filing deadlines.

Arza said he regretted the basis of the charges, expletive-laced messages he left on the voicemail of fellow state Rep. Gus Barreiro of Miami Beach.

''Did I make a harassing phone call? You know what, I did,'' Arza contritely told the media after the hearing.

The calls were made on Oct. 21 and 22, just days after Barreiro accused Arza of using a racial epithet to describe Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew, who is black.

Arza denied using the N-word to describe Crew. But he did use it in one of the two voicemails, referring to Barreiro.

He insisted Thursday that he never intended to threaten Barreiro when he left the messages.

''What I said I was guilty of today was that I made a call I shouldn't have made,'' he said. "I didn't threaten anyone.''

Former state Rep. Ralph Arza takes the oath Thursday in court.

He said he was "frustrated with a colleague.''

Arza's cousin, Paulino Barbon, also pleaded guilty to witness tampering and was sentenced to two years of probation and one weekend in jail. Barbon also made calls to Barreiro and in one threatened to "crack your head open.''

At least one of Barbon's calls was made from Arza's phone, and the men admitted they were together when the calls were made, according to court records.

Arza was smiling and cheerful at the hearing, a stark contrast to his last media appearance, a press conference at which he announced he was stepping down. At that event in front of Hialeah City Hall, Arza bitterly lashed out at anyone who considered him a racist.

He repeated that message Thursday but said he was just happy to have the episode behind him. While he waited to complete his probation paperwork, Arza sat in the courtroom chatting with his attorneys, Jeffrey Weiner and Mycki Ratzan, and his cousin, Hugo Arza.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Von Zamft told the court that Barreiro had agreed to the conditions of the plea.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle hailed the plea agreement as a "strong sentence.''


''The series of phone calls made to Rep. Barreiro were intended to raise serious concerns -- and they did -- forcing him to relocate his family for safety sake,'' she said in a prepared statement.

As part of the plea, Arza agreed to be evaluated for alcoholism and to seek treatment if the evaluation determines that's warranted. Witnesses told investigators that on the night of the calls, he had been drinking while out to dinner and at a party at his mother's house.

Senior Judge David Tobin agreed to withold adjudication, meaning Arza won't have a conviction on his record if he complies with the requirements of his probation.

Among those conditions: he must pay $1,500 in investigative costs and attend anger management classes. He also must perform 100 hours of community service.


Asked what type of community service he planned to do, Arza said, ``I'm a pretty good football coach. I can do whatever I want.''

And he said he planned to continue ''serving the community'' but declined to give specifics.

''I know how to run campaigns, I know how to move within the system,'' he said. ``I will continue to be involved because I care too much.''

He said he's working as a consultant and plans to continue working on education issues, his hallmark as a state representative.


''I'm representing different people on different matters, doing business,'' he said.

Prosecutors dropped two felony charges of tampering with a witness and retaliating against a witness in exchange for his plea.