Miami’s Mayor Went All In on Cryptocurrency. His Constituents Suffered.

In 2021, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said that Sam Bankman-Fried, the now disgraced former head of FTX, embodied the “ethos of Miami.”

Suarez was inadvertently right.

Miami is a sunny place for shady people and Bankman-Fried’s shameless grift does indeed embody the corruption that is so commonplace in the city — a place where con artists, corrupt politicians, drug traffickers, money launderers, and all sorts of white-collar criminals make their homes. Crypto scammers love Miami, hiding their greed and grift behind empty libertarian rhetoric about a war against central banking and promising to establish a parallel financial system accessible to those who are “unbanked,” despite never providing a compelling case for how it could work.

Those of us who live in Miami know that serious issues plague the city. It has the most unaffordable housing market in the country, skyrocketing rent costs, a crumbling property insurance market, chronic flooding even when there is a light storm, a complete lack of public transportation and out of control corruption.

Instead of addressing any of these actual problems, Suarez has been singularly focused on pushing cryptocurrency to the detriment of his other responsibilities as mayor. At a recent Bitcoin conference hosted in Miami Beach, Suarez articulated what he referred to as the “vision for Bitcoin America 2024,” calling for the next president of the United States to be “pro-Bitcoin” and for Bitcoin to be integrated into “every aspect of our society.” None of it has aged well after the recent spectacular collapse of the crypto market in which about $2 trillion in wealth has been wiped out, likely sending Suarez idol Bankman-Fried to prison and decimating the life savings of working people.

Suarez is the epitome of what it would be like to have a stereotypical Miami bro in office. He is the son of former Miami Mayor and County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who is probably most well known for being removed from office after being associated with a voter fraud scheme. In 2009, Suarez, who is a registered Republican, followed in his father’s footsteps and using his family connections and name recognition, was elected to the City of Miami Commission.

After serving mostly unremarkably as a commissioner, he followed in his father’s footsteps in 2017 to become the mayor of Miami. Since then, Suarez has ridden the boom of the cryptocurrency market to a sort of national prominence, positioning himself as the “most Bitcoin friendly” politician in the United States and proposing outlandish plans to fund the city’s activities through crypto mining. While on the “Decrypt Media” podcast with Bankman-Fried, Suarez embodied the cavalier attitude of Miami politicians — who are often willing to do the bidding of anyone throwing a substantial amount of money their way in order to skirt rules and regulations.

During the interview, Bankman-Fried was asked how FTX could possibly and reasonably be given a 19-year contract to the naming rights for the arena where the Miami Heat play. Suarez himself wasn’t a direct decision maker in the deal, as the arena is owned by Miami-Dade County and he is mayor of the smaller City of Miami, but he encouraged its approval. Bankman-Fried fumbled through a completely gibberish non-answer claiming that FTX made so much money in one year that they don’t need to worry about the other 18 years. Suarez was completely distracted by his phone the whole time, and looked up just at the end to give a double-thumbs up. It was truly beyond parody.

This is not the only time that Suarez propped up Sam Bankman-Fried. The Miami New Times documented several instances in which Suarez showered the disgraced former billionaire with sycophantic praise in efforts to bring further FTX investments to Miami. After FTX secured the naming rights for the Heat Arena, Bankman-Fried ridiculously tweeted that he looked forward to bringing “peace and prosperity” to Miami residents, prompting Suarez to weigh in.

“Overjoyed that your commitment to our community advances our efforts to be the most crypto friendly city on the planet. All I need to do now is figure out how to put the red laser dots on my eyes,” Suarez responded.

In another online exchange that has not aged well, Suarez welcomed FTX after Bankman-Fried announced the company would be moving its headquarters to Miami.

“[FTX] is one of the most innovative companies on the planet and you [SBF] are one of the most innovative technologists. Welcome HOME!” Suarez tweeted.

On top of his vocal support of Bankman-Fried and his ridiculous announcement of a Bitcoin political platform, Suarez also made ludicrous promises to Miami residents regarding the city’s own cryptocurrency: MiamiCoin. Despite its name, MiamiCoin is not actually owned by the City of Miami but by a company called CityCoins, which proposed that when people minted this token, 30 percent would be automatically sent to the Miami’s digital wallet and the remainder would be kept by the user per an agreement between Miami and CityCoins. MiamiCoin has since lost 99 percent of its value and is now worthless.

Other cities like New York and Austin have explored similar cryptocurrency partnerships with sketchy entities like CityCoins, but none with the same level of enthusiasm as Miami. That’s largely because of Suarez’s endorsement of the project and his promotion of MiamiCoin to residents and investors.

Quartz obtained emails between representatives of CityCoins and Suarez’s staff showing that the mayor’s media appearances promoting MiamiCoin were creating problems for the project and could cause regulatory red flags:

We need to get an hour with the Mayor for a comms training session on CityCoins and MiamiCoin. It’s great that he is doing press but he would greatly benefit from an hour session with Patrick on how to best communicate the project. There are a few regulatory wires the Mayor has tripped in recent interviews and it’s really important for the sustainability of the project that he is better prepared. We really care about the Mayor and his role in making MiamiCoin a success—it’s critical that we get time with him as soon as possible.

Suarez’s promotion of the MiamiCoin grift reached such a ridiculous crescendo that he actually claimed during an appearance on Fox & Friends that the revenue generated by the City of Miami’s stake in MiamiCoin would be given “as a dividend to all of our residents in Bitcoin” through a “digital wallet.” Even more absurdly, he added that “if this thing continues to grow, there is a world under which we can actually run the city without taxes.”

Yes, he actually claimed that this crypto scam — which lost 99 percent of its value — would lead to the abolition of taxes in Miami.

One of the most infuriating parts about this crypto scam is that Suarez doesn’t seem to have much faith in cryptocurrency when it comes to putting his own skin in the game. In February of 2021, Suarez proposed paying city employees in Bitcoin and offered to take his own paycheck in the cryptocurrency. The plan fortunately never got off the ground, but financial disclosures later revealed that Suarez only held about $11,000 in cryptocurrency by December of 2021, a miniscule amount compared to his two investment properties worth a combined $700,000.

Despite the collapse of FTX and the broader cryptocurrency market, Suarez shows little remorse for his role in legitimizing Sam Bankman-Fried and promoting MiamiCoin. In an appearance on CNBC, he was completely unapologetic, saying, “When people lose money, they want to blame someone,” and “A lot of this is media driven. Maybe in 6 months Bitcoin is at 30,000, or 40,000. Are you going to have me back on and say ‘Mr. Mayor, you’re super smart?’”

As the 2024 presidential election cycle heats up, Suarez is actually gearing up to run for president himself. It’s hard to discern if he actually believes he can be elected to the highest office in the United States or if this is just another grift to elicit campaign donations for other future political campaigns. What we do know is that his promotion of cryptocurrency seems to be paying off as his 2021 mayoral campaign drew donations from the industry, including a $25,000 donation from former child actor turned blockchain mogul Brock J. Pierce.

Suarez is doing his best to do damage control but at the end of the day MiamiCoin, which was preposterously sold to residents as something that could have ended city taxes, is a scam that lost 99 percent of its value and is now worthless.

When it comes to Miami’s ruinous flirtation with crypto scams, acclaimed documentary filmmaker and hometown gadfly Billy Corben put it best when quoted in a Washington Post article. “A bunch of con men selling imaginary coins and magic beans is not that interesting of a story,” said Corben, a longtime skeptic of Suarez’s embrace of Bitcoin. “But the fact is the government and its elected officials were complicit in it and dragged the city in it.”

That’s exactly right. It’s one thing for cryptocurrency to be the hobby horse of gamblers and speculators hoping, and mostly failing, to make a quick buck. It’s another for elected officials, who are supposed to be good stewards of our public assets and have our best interest in mind, to be peddling these grifts so shamelessly and unapologetically.