One week ago Tony Lima was living the dream as SAVE’s executive director.
On Monday the organization’s board unanimously voted to terminate him.
At SAVE’s annual Champions of Equality Gala on June 14, the now former ED introduced four men charged with a hate crime for allegedly attacking two gay men after Miami Beach Pride in 2018. They’re accused of yelling anti-gay slurs during the attack. It was caught on video. On stage Lima mentioned one of the young men had a gay father and then announced they had been “wrongfully accused.”
While most of the crowd may not have actually heard the comments, many of them applauded anyway while sipping on drinks, eating hors d’oeuvres and enjoying the festive night where even Pete Buttigieg, the gay candidate running for president, recorded a video statement thanking SAVE and Tony Lima for their hard work advocating on behalf of the LGBT community.
Lima’s introduction of those accused men, and those brief comments, ended Lima’s job at SAVE two weeks later.
It was a stunning development.
On Tuesday night SAVE released a video of Lima’s comments confirming the incident took place.
“Finally, tonight we are joined by four young men wrongfully accused of a hate crime in Miami Beach last year. Juan, Adonis, Pablo, and Luis who are joined by the wonderful gay parents of one of the boys…SAVE supports you in your fight for justice and we appreciate you being here with us tonight,” Lima said on stage.
Lima told SFGN on Tuesday afternoon he was “shocked,” at his firing while he told the Miami Herald in a statement Monday evening that he was “severely disappointed.”
“I made one mistake in my tenure of six years as the leader of SAVE and I’ve paid dearly for it,” . “Again, I apologize to the victims and to those in the community that were hurt by this. Hurting anyone was never my intention.”
He added to SFGN, “I’ve worked so hard.”
While the controversy was unfolding, Lima was in Spain taking his mother on her dream vacation. Meanwhile back in South Florida, Lima’s enemies were circling, looking for ways to assassinate his character.
An email was sent out to local media suggesting some nefarious reason behind his recent overseas trip.
“Tony Lima flees to Spain, as career-ending article is published about his recent behaviour [sic],” the subject line reads.
Before he left though, Lima informed SFGN of the trip.
Another email suggested SAVE was acting illegally, saying, “SAVE operates illegally, makes federal endorsements without a federal PAC.”
Most of the comments online expressed solidarity with the victims. On social media two camps quickly emerged, those who believed Lima should resign or be fired, and those who believed Lima made a mistake and should be forgiven.
“Many of us know Tony personally, and know what he is made of. He is dedicated and loyal to our LGBTQ community and would never do anything intentionally to hurt his community,” a statement from Unity Coalition, another LGBT rights organization in the Miami area, reads. “Let’s not be so quick vilify and burn at the [stake], those who try their best every day, to better our chances at equality.”
Meanwhile Arianna Lint, a prominent transgender activist who is close to Lima and has worked with him for years, told SFGN, “I am devastated. Thirty seconds cannot erase his years of work for his community and his open support for the trans community.”
The two victims of the alleged hate crime, Rene Chalarca and Dmitry Logunov, were also devastated.
“Last year they invited us into the SAVE family and now this. It’s pretty much stabbing us in the back,” Logunov said.
Chalarca added, “After a year of not thinking about the attack all of the memories have come back to me. Hearing my mom cry again over this has gotten me very down.”
, published June 26 (12 days after the event) was the first article to report on Lima’s remarks. Two days later on June 28, Lima released a video statement from Spain apologizing for the incident. The same day, SAVE’s board released a statement apologizing to the victims while also announcing an investigation into the incident.
“I understand that everybody is upset. I understand that a lot of people are appalled,” Lima said. “I am sorry to the victims. I apologize that this is happening…and [you] are having to relive this nightmare. Please know that SAVE supports you.”
Lima explained in the video the four accused men — Adonis Diaz, Juan Carlos Lopez, Luis Alonso Piovet, and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa — had been volunteering at SAVE for six weeks prior to the gala in an attempt at reconciliation. He wanted to acknowledge their efforts.
“I wanted them to really be able to have the opportunity to engage with our community at a deeper level,” Lima said. “That was my mistake. I should never have done that.”
On Sunday Lima was put on paid administrative leave for two weeks. Monday evening he was fired.
It’s unclear why SAVE’s board waited two weeks after the event to address the incident. Lima said in the video statement the board had no knowledge before the event that the four men would be attending or would be recognized. However, Lima told SFGN before the initial story was published that his board did in fact support Lima’s support of the four accused attackers.
SFGN attempted to clarify what the board members knew, and when they knew, via text and email. However, they did not respond to multiple attempts to reach them as of publication time.
According to SAVE’s website, those board members include Liz Regalado, Brian Adler, Joe Falk, Carlos Alzate, Nancy Brodzki, Helena Castro, Chester Dowdy, Jonathan Freidin, James Moon, Ed Pascoe and Trelvis Randolph.
In order to make sure the board received the questions, SFGN also emailed Justin Klecha, SAVE’s deputy director and Devin Cordero, SAVE’s Marketing and Communications manager. Neither responded as of publication time.
However SAVE, and/or their board, have been in contact with other media outlets.
The defendants in the alleged attack have all pled not guilty.
The alleged attack occurred outside the 6th Street public bathroom in Lummus Park in Miami Beach on April 8, 2018 and was caught on video.
Dennis Gonzalez Jr., the attorney for the four defendants, declined to comment about the ongoing case. However, one of the accused, Juan Lopez, said in February on Facebook, “False hate crime claims ain’t a joke. I know first hand!”
A spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office also had no further comment.
Last week the office said, “We are aggressively pursuing the prosecution of the case. We believe we have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against them: Aggravated Battery with Prejudice/Weapon or Bodily Harm, Aggravated Battery, Assault with Prejudice/or on Religious Institution Grounds, and Assault. If that were not the case, the charges would have been dropped in the past.”
State attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle attended the June 14 gala, but the spokesperson said she did not hear the comments on stage from Lima.
“Unity Coalition...believes that this is the time for our South Florida LGBTQ Community to come together, demand our leadership be accountable for their actions,” the statement from Unity Coalition continues. “In doing this, we also cannot lose sight of the need for support and unity. Infighting, name calling and a rush to be judge and jury, only weakens our community and its needs, and empowers our political enemies at a time of grave concern for our rights and very existence.”