Miami commissioner’s private sector employer gets millions of dollars of contracts from airport- commissioner says “no conflict”

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Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz on both sides of the fence for contracts at the airport

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz doesn’t seem to be too concerned over the appearance of insider dealings when it comes to work done by U.S. Construction- an outfit that he joined three years ago as a director, after his previous employer was shut down on fraud charges and two of his bosses were sent off to prison.

Over the last three years since Diaz was hired by U.S. Construction, the company has become the top general contractor at the Miami International Airport, according to an investigation by The Miami Herald. During the same period, Diaz has served as chairman or vice-chairman supervising the County Commission’s committee overseeing airport operations.

U.S. Construction has pulled over 36 permits since Diaz’s arrival, handling everything from Duty Free stores to the sprawling La Carreta restaurant. In fact, the company has secured three times the work of the next-largest contractor. Prior to hiring Diaz, the contractor was a minor player at the airport.

A spokesperson for one competitor, said they stopped bidding on work at the airport because of Diaz’s influence on choosing contractors.

While Diaz has not voted directly to hire U.S. Construction on the airport jobs, in at least in three instances, he voted to give concessions to companies that subsequently picked his firm to handle the construction work.

Diaz declined to be interviewed by The Miami Herald. In previous conversations with the newspaper, he claimed there was no conflict involved in his commissioner position and his contractor job. The CEO of U.S Construction, Rafael Reyes, also refused comment.

Commissioners routinely hold outside jobs because the elected position is part-time. It pays a salary of $6,000, but provides about $55,000 in annual benefits, including a pension and an $800 per month car allowance.

Last year the commission explored raising the commissioner’s annual salary to $92,000, while at the same time, banning outside work. Diaz vigorously opposed the idea saying “$92,000 is not a true salary. You are going to limit yourself to a salary that is not fitting to the office you are holding.”

The Miami Herald

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Miami ex-commissioner faces another grand theft charge

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An ousted Miami commissioner faces an additional grand theft charge in her bribery case.

Prosecutors added the charge Monday in the case against 43-year-old Michelle Spence-Jones who was charged with soliciting a bribe from a developer.The additional charge was added after she admitted in sworn court documents that she solicited the money. She faces a Jan. 18 trial.

A judge last month declined to dismiss the bribery charges against her, saying the issue was for a jury to decide.Her lawyer says the solicitation was lawful and went to benefit the citizens of her district, Liberty City and Overtown.

She also faces an unrelated grand theft charge for allegedly redirecting $50,000 in Miami-Dade funds to a family business.
Associated Press

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Miami Cops Answer Request For Budget Cutbacks: We Want More Money!

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The City of Miami is at odds with its police union over contract changes made by the city to deal with its recent budget emergency. After struggling to close a $105 million budget deficit, the city declared “Financial Urgency”, a little-used state law that allowed administrators to alter the contract with city unions for one year.

The unions representing police, firefighters and other government employees sued immediately, saying the city did not have the right to modify pension payouts, which was the primary focus of the cuts. City managers capped pensions at $100,000 per year and changed the payout formula to take into account the last three years of employment instead of only the final year, which was usually padded with heavy overtime pay. The move saved about $80 million.

The case is being heard by the Public Employees Relations Council. City Manager Carlos Migoya claims that his efforts to reach out and alter the city’s contacts with the police union went nowhere, and that the city had no choice other than to make the cuts. Migoya said that the union argued for raising taxes, fees and fines on residents to help close the gap.

The police union’s local president, Sgt. Armando Aquilar admitted that the city attempted to negotiate a compromise, but the union didn’t offer any counterproposals. Instead of agreeing to cuts, Migoya said that the union asked for pay raises and more pension payouts.

The Miami Herald

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More Than 3,300 Miami-Dade County Workers Earn Over $100,000

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According to records obtained from Miami-Dade County by Miami blog Random Pixels, 3,301 county employees are earning take home salaries in excess of $100,000 per year. About 1,400 of those employees are police officers or firefighters.

Random Pixels

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Florida Garbage Worker Arrested After Ripping Off City

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A Miami Beach sanitation worker was charged with fraud and unlawful compensation after it was discovered that he was using his city-owned dump truck to run a private side business. The worker’s supervisors became suspicious of his activities and began to follow him around to document his illegal activities.

Police detectives discovered that Richard Moore, 49, a heavy-equipment driver, had been making unauthorized runs to the county dump on behalf of private clients who paid him for the service. According to authorities, Moore made 184 of such trips since June 2009 costing taxpayers $43,985 in fees charged by the dump. One gardener, Rudolfo Moroles, said he had used Moore on about twenty occasions and paid him $50 for each pickup.

Moore posted $17,500 in bail and was released from Miami-Dade Jail.

The Miami Herald

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Florida Mayor Sitting on Emergency Earthquake Donations for Seven Months

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Sitting on $100,000 of Emergency Relief Funds

The same Florida Mayor who couldn’t recall who gave him the use of a $100,000 luxury sedan, is now in the midst of another controversy. North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre has admitted to holding on to over $100,000 in donations to Haiti earthquake victims since March of this year pending the collection of pledges from two neighboring communities, of another $75,000. Pierre claimed that he was waiting to collect at least $200,000 before sending the funds off to Haiti.

The politician told his city council members Tuesday that Mayor Shirley Gibson of Miami Gardens pledged $25,000, while Juan Carlos Bermudez of Doral promised $50,000. According to Pierre, the other communities had not yet sent the monies because they were waiting to hear how the monies would be spent. However, after being contacted by the Miami Herald, both mayors denied ever discussing any pledges or donations with Pierre.

Even North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin was surprised that Pierre claimed to have some arrangement with the neighboring communities. “I was certainly never involved with any discussion about a $200,000 goal,” said Galvin.

On Tuesday evening, the city council voted to send the monies off to Haiti immediately amid criticism from donors that the money should have been sent earlier. The Haiti disaster occurred on January 12, 2010.

Miami Herald

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Major Medicare Scammer Shut Down in Florida

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American Therapeutic Corp. in Miami, the nation’s largest chain of mental health clinics, is the latest operation to be shut down by the Justice Department for Medicare fraud. Federal investigators allege that the company may have bilked taxpayers of some $84 million in bogus claim payments.

According to The Miami Herald, the company’s two top executives, Lawrence Duran and Marianella Valera, operated the seven-clinic chain in south Florida without regard to patient safety or medical needs, lining up a steady stream of patients by paying bribes to a network of recruiters. Once there, officials claim, ATC billed for therapy sessions that never occurred, or were inappropriate for the patients’ conditions.

The operation was exposed to authorities by a whistle-blower lawsuit from a former employee. That employee was fired by the ATC after she complained that the company was billing Medicare for treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who could not possibly benefit from the therapy. The couple is also accused of altering patient records, medical diagnoses and therapy session notes to make the operation appear legitimate to Medicare examiners.

According to court records, company bank accounts were used to fund the executive’s lavish lifestyle, including expensive sport cars, motorcycles, jewelry, and condos, and trips to Switzerland, Dominic Republic and Cuba.  The company also made private-school tuition payments on behalf of Duran’s children.

The Miami Herald

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