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Joe Carollo says his wages cannot be garnished. He's sponsoring Venezuelan family

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo arrives at court for his federal trial on April 18, 2023.
Matias J. Ocner
Miami Herald
Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo arrives at court for his federal trial on April 18, 2023.

A federal court this week ordered the City of Miami to withhold wages for Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo — an order he intends to fight by claiming he can't because of his "charity" towards Venezuelan nationals.

Back in June, Carollo was found liable for violating the First Amendment rightsof Little Havana Businessmen William Fuller and Martin Pinilla by using city power to harass their businesses. Fuller is co-owner of the Ball & Chain Bar on Calle Ocho.

Carollo was ordered to pay a combined $63.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the pair And because the City of Miami is Carollo's primary employer, the court ordered the city to "garnish" Carollo's wages, meaning to withhold part of his paycheck to pay back the damages.

READ MORE: Joe Carollo found liable: ordered to pay $63 million in federal 'harassment' case

In a court filing opposing Fuller and Pinilla's request to garnish his wages, Carollo claimed he was exempt from garnishment under Florida statutes because he is the head of his household.

"Defendant is the head of household and primary provider for his wife, and thus, his wages are entitled to full protection under Section 222.11, Florida Statutes," Carollo's attorneys wrote in an August 7 objection.

Carollo's wife Marjorie is not the only dependent the Cuban commissioner claims in this filing. He apparently also provides for a Venezuelan family of four.

"Further, in an act of generosity and charity, Defendant, in January 2023, pledged to support a husband and wife and their two minor children (together “the four dependents”) as they flee from the Venezuelan Communist regime," Carollo's attorneys wrote.

According to the filing, Carollo filled out an online form with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to support the Venezuelan family, and the four of them live with the commissioner and his wife.

More than 7.3 million people have fled Venezuela since 2014 because of rampant violence, inflation and food shortages over the past decade, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Miami-Dade County in particular is home to one of the nation's largest concentrations of Venezuelan immigrants.

Reached by WLRN over the phone on Wednesday, Carollo declined to comment about the arrangement.

"I’m not gonna answer any questions from you, just like I never have," Carollo told WLRN.

No further information about the family, including their names, is provided in the filing. It goes on to say that Carollo provides for the four dependents and covers their basic living needs using his city commissioner salary.

Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis denied Carollo's request for exemption because his attorneys filed it before the court even ordered his wages to be garnished.

The city pays Carollo an annual salary of $58,200 according to the city charter. This does not include benefits such as a car and phone allowance, as well as retirement contributions.

Federal law limits the amount of wages that can be withheld from a defendant to 25% of their disposable earnings.

The City of Miami is required to provide an answer to Fuller and Pinilla's attorneys within 20 days of being served the writ of garnishment. If the city does not respond, the court may enter a judgement against it for the full $63.5 million that the plaintiffs are owed.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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