(WSVN) - WSVN-TV and South Florida journalism have lost a trailblazer as longtime investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has passed away. Cafiero’s impressive 43-year career at Channel 7 set the standard for journalism in the region.
Carmel Cafiero was known for her unwavering passion, persistence, and pointed questions, leaving an indelible mark on journalism in South Florida. Her commitment to seeking the truth and holding those in power accountable was a hallmark of her career.
“How can you justify giving out a million oxycodone pills? Don’t touch the camera, don’t touch the camera!” Cafiero said in one of her investigations.
She was always on the case and usually on someone’s tail.
“Mr. Rodriguez, where are you going? Wait, mister,” Cafiero said.
Born in New Orleans, Cafiero initially worked in radio before making her mark at WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, where she became the first woman to anchor an evening newscast in the state. In 1973, she joined Channel 7, then known as WCKT, as a general assignment reporter, becoming the station’s first female journalist at a time when newsrooms were predominantly male.
“Not only was she breaking stories, she was breaking ceilings with who she was and the quality of her professionalism,” Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade State Attorney told 7News.
“The thing that I find rewarding about my work is informing people, and if by informing people we can avoid one person from being hurt or taken in, then it’s a success,” Cafiero said in one of her investigations.
Cafiero fearlessly pursued stories that exposed wrongdoing and served the public interest.
In one of Carmel’s first big stories, she wore a wig and went undercover to expose unlicensed doctors who performed abortions and clinic workers who told women they were pregnant when they weren’t. Carmel was told she was pregnant based on a urine sample from her male photographer.
Her investigative work exposed defective Chinese drywall in South Florida homes, dangerous pet jerky treats from China linked to dog deaths, and the sale of used mattresses as new.
“We found dirt, we found stains, we found hair, we even found stains on cardboard in the children’s mattress,” Cafiero said in one of her investigations.
In 2008, Carmel Cafiero’s groundbreaking reporting unveiled the opioid crisis, with Broward County at its epicenter.
“It was a scourge on our community. Seven Floridians a day were dying from overdoses,” Al Lamberti, former Broward County Sheriff said.
Millions of highly addictive prescription painkillers flowed freely from clinics to people. Many from out of state, who used, abused and sold them.
“We have pictures of people snorting, shooting up in this parking lot after coming out of your clinic. I mean, what do you have to say about what’s going on here?,” Cafiero said in a previous story.
“I don’t think you’re right,” the clinic owner said.
Her series led to the prosecution of clinic operators and doctors and earned her the prestigious Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award. Her work not only won awards but also contributed to saving lives and influencing changes in the law.
“One of the things that her stories were critical for, we got that prescription drug monitoring program. It was passed by the Florida legislature, mainly because of the media attention that Carmel brought to the problem,” said Lamberti.
Carmel Cafiero’s dedication extended beyond investigative reporting.
She shed light on the plight of young teens overdosing outside a Pompano Beach nightclub, confronting the club’s owner, a convicted felon.
“If you know anything about my background, if you know anything about my background, then you’d leave me alone,” the club’s owner said.
Some people may have tried to hide from the law, but they couldn’t hide from Carmel.
“Don’t run from me… Don’t you think as a public official, you ought to answer our questions?” Carmel said during an investigation.
“I’m wondering how you’re able to park in a disabled spot?” she told officials.
She also exposed the deception of self-proclaimed celebrity “psychic” Miss Cleo, whose customers were deceived nationwide.
“I think you are quite finished. Thank you, my dear,” Cleo told Carmel.
During a time of national crisis after the September 11th attacks, Cafiero was the first reporter allowed inside terrorist Mohamed Atta’s former Hollywood apartment.
“It will take more than soap and water to scrub away the stains and the ghosts left behind by the terrorists responsible for our national nightmare.”
Her commitment to seeking truth and uncovering the facts knew no bounds, taking her from the streets of South Florida to towns across the globe.
In 1997, she tracked down former Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Gersten in Australia, and in 2013, she interviewed Francesco Schettino, the captain of one of the worst cruise ship disasters in history in Italy.
“They’ve called you this, ‘Chicken of the Sea.’ They’ve called you ‘Captain Coward,” Carmel said.
“I cannot be a coward. If you are a captain of a ship, you are not a coward. Come on, this is a joke,” Schettino said.
“You think back about the kind of impact that she’s had — whether it was after Hurricane Andrew, helping change the building code — She went down there and covered so much of that,” said Fernandez Rundle.
Cafiero also covered the devastation caused by hurricanes in both of her hometowns.
“This is your roof, right? This is what your roof was made up of?” Cafiero said.
“I was born and raised in and around New Orleans. Coming back now is both a heartbreaking and a heartwarming journey.”
Her compassion extended to the story of Selma Shapiro, whose home was a literal nightmare, infested with rats and covered in droppings.
Cafiero’s relentless reporting played a role in rallying the community to help Selma and turn her life around.
“I didn’t realize that people actually cared about me. I thought no one cared about me, but I found out differently,” Selma Shapiro told Carmel when she helped her.
Throughout her 43-year career, Carmel Cafiero consistently asked tough questions in her relentless pursuit of the truth. Her legacy as a fearless investigative journalist will forever be remembered in South Florida.
Carmel Cafiero is survived by her husband Bob, her daughter Courtney and her two granddaughters Mariah and Melanie.
“I am grateful for you allowing me into your homes and for WSVN for giving me that opportunity.”
Click here to see all of Carmel’s investigations.
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