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.”