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Miami Herald wins Brechner FOI Award for ‘Shakedown City’

The Miami Herald is the winner of the 2024 Brechner Freedom of Information Award for “Shakedown City,” an investigation into government corruption within the city of Miami that spawned a series of investigations by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Securities and Exchange Commission and state ethics commission. The award is administered by the Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

The journalists submitted more than 150 public records requests and battled almost daily with city attorneys when the requests were ignored. The Herald’s document-based reporting revealed that Mayor Francis Suarez secretly received $170,000 from a developer, and used his clout to secure 13 side jobs, including for crypto-related ventures, encouraging staff to convert paychecks to digital tokens.

“We’re honored to have our work recognized by the Brechner FOI Project and so very proud of the journalists behind Shakedown City,” said Miami Herald Executive Editor Alex Mena. “This team was relentless in pursuing answers, undeterred by stonewalling from the mayor and a city administration determined to protect him, and resourceful in using public records to ultimately pry loose the details our community needed to know.”

The team behind the reporting included investigative reporter Sarah Blaskey, Miami government reporter Joey Flechas, municipal reporter Tess Riski, federal courts reporter Jay Weaver and graphics reporter Susan Merriam. The project was edited by politics editor David Smiley, senior investigations editor Casey Frank and managing editor Dana Banker.

“This reporting exemplifies the best use of public records to shed light on government and expose misuse of taxpayer funds,” said David Cuillier, director of the Brechner Freedom of Information Project.

The entries were judged by three experienced FOI experts from across the country. One of the judges wrote that the reporting demonstrated “stunning revelations about one of the most powerful mayors in the U.S.” Another judge remarked that the project was “another series that broke the scale on almost every metric. Truly impressive work and impact.”

The Miami Herald won a Brechner FOI Award in 2016 for an investigation into Florida’s child-welfare system and in 2007 for illegal case-sealing practices in the Broward court system.

Members of the Miami Herald project team will accept the award and discuss their work at a luncheon in Gainesville, Florida, on April 8 from 11:30 a.m. -1 p.m. at the Cone Park Library, 2801 E. University Ave. The talk is sponsored by the Florida Free Speech Forum. Attendees can pay $20 for lunch or attend for free without lunch. Register by April 1 at

Twenty news organizations throughout the United States and Canada submitted their records-based reporting to the annual competition. The Brechner Freedom of Information Award has been presented annually since 1986 to reward excellence in reporting that draws on government documents and data, shedding light on official secrecy. The award includes a $3,000 cash prize, made possible by an endowment created by the Brechner family.

Cuillier said the competition was fierce, and noted some of the close runner-up contenders:

  • The Globe and Mail of Toronto submitted 1,000 public records requests to show how government agencies flaunted public record laws, hiding information from the public. The reporting led to closer attention to better processes and laws. One judge called the project an “exhaustive look at problems with Canada’s public records laws.”
  • Cox Media Group and KFF Health News used audits and agency reports mid-investigation to expose billions of dollars in overpayments by the Social Security Administration affecting 2 million people.  Said one judge: “The creative request that launched this investigation is matched in impressiveness only by the impact the work was able to generate.”
  • Arizona Luminaria of Tucson, Arizona, acquired judicial records, county contracts and other records to document extensive jail-related deaths in Pima County, spurring an investigation and calls for accountability. Said one judge: “The Arizona Luminaria did one of the most powerful things journalists can do with public records: find an urgent question that no one else can answer, answer it and meticulously document how it came to be.”

About the Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project:

The non-partisan, nonprofit Brechner Freedom of Information Project, founded in 1977, works to educate journalists, policymakers and the general public about the law of access today and how it should work tomorrow. The Center, based in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, is a source of research, expertise and advocacy about the law of gathering and disseminating news across all platforms and technologies.

For more information, contact David Cuillier at

Posted: March 18, 2024
Category: Brechner News
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