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    Groups seek review of Greco's Cuba trip

    Lawyer Ralph Fernandez acknowledges an inquiry would likely not yield charges.

    By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 16, 2002


    TAMPA -- After keeping quiet for two weeks, local Cuban-American groups on Thursday demanded an investigation of the mayor's trip to Cuba and his meeting with Fidel Castro.

    Tampa lawyer Ralph Fernandez said 12 groups asked him to determine if Mayor Dick Greco had violated any federal laws on the trip and to ask that a state grand jury meet to review his findings.

    The groups include the local chapters of the Cuban-American National Foundation and the World Federation of Cuban Former Political Prisoners.

    "I am not going to lie down and suggest that we are irrelevant," Fernandez said.

    Like most people in Tampa, Fernandez had no advance notice of Greco's trip last month to Cuba, where Greco was joined by a contingent of local business leaders.

    The four-day visit stunned some local Cuban-Americans who had supported the mayor's political career but oppose any thaw in U.S. relations with Castro's regime.

    Fernandez conceded his investigation is unlikely to lead to charges.

    "This is not a request for prosecution," he said. As a private citizen, Fernandez has no powers to subpoena records or compel testimony.

    The inquiry will be part of a broader, political response to the mayor's trip, Fernandez said.

    "We have sat back in comfort too long," he said. "Now we have to awaken our neighbors, our friends and our co-workers in the city."

    Any political fallout won't affect Greco, because he can't run for re-election because of term limits. But anger could be directed at mayoral candidates Frank Sanchez and Don Ardell, neither of whom questioned the mayor's trip.

    Both City Council members Bob Buckhorn and Charlie Miranda, their two opponents, have criticized the trip.

    Greco said Fernandez is welcome to investigate anything he pleases.

    "One thing about this country: Anyone can do anything they want," Greco said. "It's wonderful to have those privileges. Some countries don't, like the one we visited."

    City Attorney James Palermo said Thursday he would deny a public records request from Fernandez for records about the trip.

    Palermo said the mayor went to Cuba as a private citizen, so any records about it, even if sent to Greco's office at City Hall, would not be released under Florida's public records law.

    "If (Greco) had gone as a private citizen, he would not have met Fidel Castro," Fernandez replied. "He was referred to as the mayor of Tampa, and he was received as the mayor of Tampa."

    Albert Fox Jr., president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, which sponsored the trip, said he isn't concerned.

    "It's over," Fox said. "It's sad these people don't understand what has happened here."

    He also doubted that Fernandez represents the feelings of many citizens. "I don't know why (Fernandez) has gotten all this special time," Fox said. "Maybe there is nothing else to write about."

    Fox's group traveled to Cuba under a license for educational and fact-finding visits issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control.

    "This trip was legal," Fox said.

    No law enforcement agency contacted Thursday had received a request to investigate the trip. The state attorney's office said that without a request, it couldn't comment on the matter.

    -- David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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