South Beach's Corrupt Projects: From Bathrooms to Frozen Yogurt Stand
When Gus Lopez was arrested in October on 63 charges ranging from money laundering to bribery, even the most jaded Miami Beach residents were amazed at the extent of his alleged corruption. For five years, the city's procurement director had run a contract racket out of his office at city hall, prosecutors say. Lopez connived to award multimillion-dollar contracts to friends, who then funneled more than $600,000 to him, his model wife, and accomplice Pierre Landrin Jr.
The scam was splashed all over the papers. But little has been written about the lasting consequences of Lopez's corruption. His scheme not only cost Miami Beach taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars but also saddled the city with shoddy public works projects -- many of which are over budget or years overdue.
Take, for instance, a project to build new bathrooms at 35th Street, which the city put out for proposals in August 2009. Despite bidding nearly $9,000 more than competitors, Harbour Construction was awarded the $405,055 contract. The reason: Lopez, through Landrin, had cut a deal with Harbour to steer the contract to the company in return for 3 percent, or roughly $12,000. No one at Harbour, which didn't respond to requests for comment, has been charged over the alleged bid tampering. Even worse, Beach taxpayers forked over nearly a half-million dollars for what turned out to be two pastel-blue outhouses.
Just down the road, at the renovated Miami Beach Botanical Garden, the chief architect praised how the new plan improved "circulation" within the space at the October 2011 reopening. But the real circulation at work was the $44,000 that Harbour paid to Landrin and Lopez to land the $1.4 million contract. What better place for newlyweds to pose for photos than a garden rooted in graft?
On Dade Boulevard, construction workers have commandeered the road for the past year to pour cement encasing Collins Canal. The seawall restoration project was supposed to be part of an ambitious plan to build a bicycle lane across Miami Beach. Twelve months later, there is no sign of a bike path. That's because Lopez again conspired with Harbour, selecting the lowest of six bids to ensure the company received the $3 million contract. When Harbour didn't have the credit to finance the project, Lopez and Landrin made another $30,000 by falsifying the documents. Whether or not the bike path is ever built, taxpayers are the ones taken for a ride.
But the most ridiculous remnant of Gus Lopez's racketeering just might be one you can taste. According to prosecutors, Kim Pham, the owner of local frozen yogurt company Blissberry, paid Landrin $5,000 to help obtain a contract to sling dessert at South Pointe Park. Pham, who didn't respond to requests for comment, hasn't been charged with a crime, and it's unclear if she knew her money was buying Lopez's favor, but the scam is enough to sour your next scoop of fro yo.