The future of some high-profile public construction projects in Dade County, Fla., has been thrown into uncertainty following criminal investigations into bid-rigging and kickbacks involving Miami Beach procurement officials.
Police arrested former Miami Beach procurement official Gul Lopez on Monday for allegedly leaking information about competitive bids to associate Pierre Landrin Jr., who prosecutors say passed along the information to other bidders in exchange for kickbacks which Lopez and Landrin split. Landrin began working with investigators and set up Lopez to be videotaped accepting the bribes, the Miami Herald reports ("Former Beach official, wife arrested in corruption probe," by David Ovalle). "Lopez and Landrin were slapped with charges including racketeering, bid-tampering and illegal compensation. Investigators say they earned up to $600,000 from at least 12 companies that did business with the city."
Prosecutors released video of a recorded conversation in which Lopez appears to be explaining to Landrin that police will not be able to trace the money trail back to Lopez. In the video, posted with the Herald story, Lopez says his bank deposits of cash can be explained away, saying, "My wife gets paid cash." (Prosecutors have also indicted Lopez' wife, Maria Alejandra Pineda, for money laundering.)
Tangled up in the affair is a billion-dollar proposed development on the site of the Miami Beach Convention Center. A report in Architectural Record says that winning bids in the project have been tainted by allegations of kickbacks paid to a Lopez associate ("Corruption Inquiries Curb Miami Projects," by Fred A. Bernstein). One winning bidder, Portman-CMC, "was charged with making a $25,000 payment to Walter Garcia, an associate of the city's purchasing director, Gus Lopez," the report says. "That led Miami Beach's longtime city manager, Jorge Gonzalez, to put the project on hold pending investigation of bid-tampering and bribery. But then Gonzalez was forced to resign, in the wake of an unrelated bribery scandal."
Now, Architectural Record reports, "two well-known Miami Beach developers, speaking independently, said that the scandals have left so much ill will that the convention center project will likely be scrapped altogether."
But the Convention Center project may not fall victim to the shady shenanigans after all, the Herald reported on October 3 ("Prosecutors: Miami Beach Convention Center bids not tainted," by David Smiley). "Chief Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo wrote in an email Wednesday morning that an investigation prompted by concerns that the city's then-purchasing director was rigging the bidding on a 52-acre convention center redevelopment has not uncovered wrongdoing involving the massive project," the paper reported. Arrojo wrote, "We have not come across anything in our investigation at this time that rises to the level of criminal conduct in any transactions we have reviewed." But, the Herald reported, the investigation into the Convention Center part of the scandal is not finished.