Page Touts Innocence as Possible Arrest Looms

By Mark Schlueb | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted February 28, 2006

In a last-ditch effort to avoid arrest, Orlando Commissioner Ernest Page met with prosecutors today to explain his threat to kill a West Orlando affordable housing project unless his nonprofit group was cut in on the deal.

A representative of the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office said prosecutors will decide "in the next couple of days" whether to charge Page over his threat to a Tampa minority advocate. Two sources close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity said Page could be arrested as early as Wednesday.

Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney Mark NeJamePage and his lawyer, prominent Orlando defense attorney Mark NeJame, spent three hours talking with prosecutors today. After the meeting, NeJame said his client was speaking as a private citizen -- not as a city commissioner -- when he left angry messages for a would-be business partner saying "the project is dead if you don't talk to me quick."

"Mayor Page is adamant about his innocence regarding the suggestions that have been made against him," NeJame said, using the title Page earned while substituting for Mayor Buddy Dyer last year. "We heard a decision was going to be forthcoming very soon. It was incumbent on Mayor Page to get some facts to the State Attorney's Office that had not been fully explored so the full story could be told."

Page has said the nonprofit corporation he leads, Southwest United Communities, had long been working on acquiring a group of rundown West Orlando apartments and converting them to condos. He'd discussed the project multiple times with Al Pina, who runs a similar community development group in Tampa, and offered to partner with him.

But Pina tried to proceed without Page's nonprofit, prompting the commissioner to send phone and e-mail messages to Pina on Oct. 3.

"The city is not going to be involved unless Southwest United Communities is involved," Page said in a voicemail recording.

Source: Orlando Sentinel