Up to 16 firms face Beach corruption probe
By Scott Blake
Miami Beach commissioners have called for an investigation of up to 16 companies that allegedly dealt with the city's former procurement director and his business partner, both arrested last week in a corruption probe into the awarding of city contracts.
The companies were identified in an affidavit by a Miami Beach Police detective used to obtain a warrant to arrest Gus Lopez, who resigned as procurement director in March, and an associate, Pierre Landrin. Also arrested was Mr. Lopez's wife, Maria Alejandra Pineda.
Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office and the Miami Beach Police Department have been investigating allegations that Mr. Lopez leaked sensitive information to companies vying for city contracts in exchange for cash, allegedly collected and handled by Mr. Landrin.
Saying the city is obligated to ferret out any city contractors involved in wrongdoing, commissioners last week voted unanimously to direct the police department to look into the companies accused of dealing with Mr. Lopez and Mr. Landrin to determine if they knowingly participated in the alleged scheme.
Commissioner Jerry Libbin, also president and CEO of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, said he made the motion for the local investigation after learning the state attorney's office does not intend to pursue charges against the companies in connection to Mr. Lopez and Mr. Landrin.
"We need to ensure we are comfortable with those companies the state attorney has chosen not to prosecute," Mr. Libbin said.
City Attorney Jose Smith said the state attorney's office has granted immunity to some or all of the companies in connection to its investigation.
However, Mr. Smith said his office plans to work with Miami Beach police and expects to receive files of information about the case from the state attorney.
Mr. Lopez and Mr. Landrin were arrested on probable cause that they committed multiple felonies — including money laundering, bribery, bid tampering and unlawful compensation — but they have not been formally charged. They are expected to be officially charged during a Nov. 13 court arraignment.
Mr. Smith said the city can bar companies found to have knowingly participated in the alleged payola scheme to get city contracts from receiving any other city contracts. By local ordinance, the firms can be barred from receiving city contracts for up to five years, he said.
The city also could file civil charges against the companies, depending on what the investigation uncovers, Mr. Smith said.
The city does not expect to be able to file criminal charges against the companies or their officers due to the immunity arrangements with the state attorney's office.
The state attorney is expected to file formal charges against Mr. Lopez and the others in coming weeks, and then release its files on the case to the city for its investigation, Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith said the process could take about two months before the city decides whether to act to bar any of the companies.
Mr. Smith said he expects Mr. Landrin, who cooperated with investigators prior to last week's arrests, to cooperate again with the city's investigation and provide information for its probe of the companies.
Miami Today will not name the companies while the investigation is pending.
Meanwhile, Mr. Lopez is being held in a county jail on a $780,000 bond, said Miami Beach attorney Carlos Fleites, Mr. Lopez's lawyer.
Mr. Fleites said he expects the state to officially charge Mr. Lopez during arraignment in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.
"At this point," Mr. Fleites said, "he is maintaining his innocence. We've entered a plea of not guilty and we're aggressively defending the charges against him."
The case against Mr. Lopez, Mr. Fleites added, is "politically motivated and ignores the actions of many others at Miami Beach City Hall."
According to the police affidavit, obtained by Miami Today, Mr. Lopez and Mr. Landrin formed a consulting company called Almani Marketing, which operated from May 2005 to September 2012.
"The plan was for Landrin to get hired on as a consultant with companies wanting to do business with the city and then Landrin would split all proceeds with Lopez," the affidavit states.
"There were numerous times over the course of years," the document reads, "that Lopez would exert influence on or provide information and advice to Landrin relating to the clients Almani had obtained that were doing business or seeking to do business with the city."
All 16 companies named in the affidavit allegedly had compensation agreements with Almani Marketing and Mr. Landrin.
"A review of bank records for Almani Marketing and Landrin," the document states, "indicate he received in excess of $600,000 over the course of approximately seven years" from the companies.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Landrin eventually cooperated with investigators, setting up a meeting with Mr. Lopez on Sept. 14 that was video and audio recorded. During the meeting, the document states, Mr. Landrin allegedly told Mr. Lopez that he had received $3,450 from one of the companies that did business with the city and Mr. Lopez allegedly took the cash.
During the investigation of the companies, Mr. Libbin said, the city should not issue new contracts to the firms in question.
In addition, the city plans to stop issuing all job order contracts while the investigation is pending. Job order contracts are usually smaller contracts that the city can issue in a hurry without seeking competitive bids.
Twelve of the 16 companies named in the affidavit allegedly sought to get business within the city's job order contracts program.
Also last week, commissioners voted to rescind a request for proposal for a new contract from a security firm named in the corruption probe.
Although Mr. Lopez and Mr. Landrin have not been officially charged, the police affidavit cited probably cause to arrest to them for multiple felonies:
nNine counts of money laundering of $20,000 to $100,000; 17 counts of money laundering of $300 to $20,000; six counts of bribery; three counts of bid tampering; and 13 counts of unlawful compensation.
In addition, the affidavit cited probable cause for one count of official misconduct against Mr. Lopez, and probable cause for one count of money laundering of $300 to $20,000 against Ms. Pineda.
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