Miami Beach’s controversial former procurement director, who until this year was a major spoke in the wheel of City Hall’s plans to redevelop the city convention center, was arrested Monday and accused of multiple crimes including racketeering, money laundering, bribery, and bid tampering.
However, the charges, say prosecutors, are not related to his involvement with the convention center project.
Gus Lopez’s friend and accomplice, Pierre Landrin, Jr., 47, a partner of Almani Marketing, a consulting company, was also arrested in the case. He, according to reports, is also a Miami-Dade County Public School employee.
Also charged: Lopez’s wife, Maria Alejandra Pineda, 33, with money laundering. She is alleged to have helped her husband stash the cash he is accused of stealing.
REEK OF SCANDAL
The State Attorney’s Office charged Lopez with one count of racketeering under the RICO Act; 27 counts of money laundering; six counts of bribery; 14 counts of accepting unlawful compensation; three counts of bid tampering; and one count of official misconduct.
Landrin was charged with one count of racketeering under the RICO Act; 26 counts of money laundering; six counts of bribery; 13 counts of accepting unlawful compensation; and three counts of bid tampering.
Lopez was the city’s top man for procurement until he resigned abruptly in March, just as then-City Manager Jorge Gonzalez was about to fire him for insubordination and “lack of confidence” in his job performance.
According to city records exposed by a blogger and posted online last year, Lopez, in 2010, was the 46th-highest-paid employee on the city’s payroll, taking home an annual $140,317.
Lopez’s resignation, and the reek of scandal that swirled from it, suddenly threw a wrench into the city’s until-then smooth and orderly attempt to find a potential developer for the Miami Beach Convention Center re-do.
At times, it seemed as if the city’s plans for the center would never get off the ground; their chief promoter, Gonzalez, was eventually forced out of office in July in the wake of his handling of another, unrelated corruption case involving city code and fire inspectors.
Upon Lopez’s departure from City Hall, Miami Beach police were ordered to investigate him, including seizing office equipment that he had used.
Office and personal emails of Lopez’s were discovered to include frequent and extensive communications with parties interested in seeking bids or any possible competitive advantage in the bidding process to redevelop the convention center, an anticipated $1 billion project.
One of those with whom Lopez communicated is Walter Garcia, a Miami Beach luxury home builder and remodeler – and an ex-con. A search warrant from earlier this year alleges that Garcia helped Lopez’s wife, Pineda, a self-described model, with financing for a Mercedes Benz.
It was a month later that Lopez allegedly began exclusively sharing information about the city’s sealed bids process with Garcia, information Lopez denied to others.
Garcia, convicted and imprisoned in the late ’90s for his role in a federal drug trafficking and money laundering case, then paroled in 2000, has not been charged in connection with the Lopez matter.
Landrin, prosecutors said in unveiling their charges this week, was cooperating with authorities to nail Lopez. The two men are even seen in a secretly-videotaped Sept. 14 recording, released by the State Attorney’s Office, discussing how to hide from investigators the money they were exchanging.
“These two old friends, these two men, practiced greed and arrogance, and solicited illegal and ill-gotten monies,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said of Lopez and Landrin during a Monday news conference announcing their arrests. Rundle was flanked by Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower, Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks, Police Chief Ray Martinez, and Deputy Police Chief Mark Overton, among others.
Lopez would “promise inside information in exchange for a fee…and would provide that privileged information” to Landrin, Rundle said. Landrin, in turn, would share part of the fees with Lopez.
In the video, Landrin, concerned about investigators snooping, asks Lopez, “What if they pull my bank records?”
“They’re not going to be able to draw a line from A to B,” Lopez assures him.
Lopez, 52, and his wife were still being held in the county jail as of Wednesday; he on a $780,000 bond, she on a $22,500 bond.
Landrin was released on a $24,500 bond.
The Gus Lopez Scandal – A Timeline
The City of Miami Beach extends its deadline – previously set for March 23 and then March 29 – to April 23 for developers to submit applications to bid on the convention center redevelopment.
City purchasing director Gus Lopez resigns just as he is about to be fired for what then-Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez describes as insubordination and “lost confidence” in his job performance. Superiors discover e-mails sent by Lopez on his office computer that suggest his role in the convention center redevelopment bidding process was anything but impartial.
The Miami Beach police department is called into the case; Lopez’s home is raided and computers and documents are seized. The office of Walter Garcia – an associate of Lopez and an ex-con previously convicted of money laundering in a past federal case – is also raided.
Patricia Walker and Raul Aguila, the city’s chief financial officer and deputy city attorney, respectively, are assigned to oversee the convention center’s procurement process for the time being.
“If this gentleman did something illegal, he should be punished for it,” Mayor Matti Bower tells Miami Today. “If not, that’s fine. I want to keep Miami Beach as clean as possible.”
(In an unrelated matter 12 days after Lopez’s resignation, the FBI arrests five Beach code compliance officers and 2 city fire inspectors on bribery charges.)
The SunPost, in a cover story, reports some of the email exchanges between Lopez and Garcia, dating to July 2011.
One, found among Lopez’s work email, is a message from Garcia detailing how much he expected to receive if he were successful in getting the bid. His “success fee” is mentioned as $6.73 million, or 0.71% of the overall deal.
Dominique Bessa, Garcia’s girlfriend, plunges to her death from the balcony of his 42nd floor apartment at the Green Diamond condo (4775 Collins Ave.). Police responding to the scene arrest Garcia after discovering a warrant for him.
In a memo to city commissioners, City Attorney Jose Smith clears CMC Group and its president Ugo Columbo of any wrongdoing in the convention center redevelopment bidding. CMC had paid $25,000 to Garcia’s company, Peninsula Development. Garcia had approached Colombo in January about forming a team to bid on the project.
“There is no evidence suggesting that either CMC Group or Ugo Colombo engaged in any criminal wrongdoing,” Smith rules.
Of the convention center project, Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo e-mails Beach officials: “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.” The convention center redevelopment, he assures them, “is not the focus of our inquiry.”
Lopez, his wife, and business associate Pierre Landrin are arrested and charged with a slew of corruption-related crimes that are said not to be tied to the convention center project.
“Let’s vote in Honey Boo Boo” …and Other Public Reaction to the Gus Lopez Bust
What a sewer this city is. Where’s Matti? Too shocked to talk? Balancing her checkbook maybe? Shocked, I’m shocked by all of this.
Am I Bill Murray in Groundhog Day? Is this a Miami Beach time loop?
What else is new – another corrupt politician in Miami – is there one honest politician in this cesspool or are they all on the take? hello???
If the City of Miami Beach does not invite the Miami-Dade OIG to provide oversight and investigation services after this latest example of Miami Beachorruption, then we will assume it’s because there are too many other deals in process that might fall apart if detailed in the Miami Herald or an OIG report.
Fernandez Rundle is the PROBLEM, not the solution….FIRE HER!
[Rundle's] office is like the gummy bears candies left in one’s pocket and going through the washer and dryer – just yechhhhhh! And the convictions rates are laughable – even though most of the criminals are “whack-a-moles”!
Let’s vote in Honey Boo Boo….we couldn’t do any worse…or could we?
It’s a sick culture of corruption in Miami Beach and city officials continue to condone it. In August, the Herald reported that the director of Miami Beach’s corruption-tainted code compliance division, Robert Santos-Alborná, used a city credit card to pay for an $800 retirement party, accepted discounted meals from a restaurateur, and was dating one of his code officers.
Instead of firing him (like they would do in any other organization), city manager Kathi Brooks (his old buddy from his county government days) decided to give him a “scolding.”
The Miami Beach city government is corrupt to its core.
Commission has only paid lip service to getting tough. They are truly not serious. As this case shows, it is inbred into Miami Beach city government. Commissioners are scared for an outside independent agency to review them. They are afraid because their fingerprints are all over other projects.
They need independent watchdogs!
When the foxes watch the hen house, the chickens are never missing. Where was “Honest Abe” Jorge Gonzalez, where was the HR director, Inguanzo Ramiro? Where was city attorney Jose Smith? In the private business world I will tell you EXACTLY where they would be: FIRED. Madam Mayor and Ms. Manager: you need to demonstrate real leadership and start handing out pink slips. Let me know if you need any suggestions. I was there and I saw your skunks at work. Show the city you mean business OR continue being a laughingstock. Choose wisely.
In the future hold REVERSE bid auctions. All bidders stand together in the same room. All bidders cry out their bid verbally. Lowest bid wins. Auction stops when no one will bid lower. See how simple it is? So much for your “SEALED BIDS.”
PERSON #1: Are you suggesting that executing corrupt city officials on the spot is better policy?
PERSON #2: We can’t do that, there would be no one left in Slimey Beach.
Mayor Abuelita just can’t understand any of it. She has a 10th grade education. That’s what the people deserve for electing her. When she was just a commissioner, she actually thought it was cute to laugh during every discussion of every issue and say how she couldn’t really understand the details – too complex. This is not a good quality to have to be the mayor. She bakes great cookies, though, and is a very lovable person.
Oh no not more Miami Beach corruption. This is getting to be a habit. The Beach first had cops behaving badly, then inspectors behaving badly, and now this guy.
Is the mayor HORRIFIED? I am shocked. Corruption involving the convention center development. And the project hasn’t even started yet.
Miami Beach and its surrounding areas all breed corruption and disgusting behavior. Remember Bruce Kaplan, Joe Gerstein, Demitrio Perez, Jr., his son running for school board, Miriam Alonso, Howard Gary, several City of Miami police chiefs and officers, Humberto Hernandez, NMB’s own Myron Rosner, unethical conduct in NM by various elected officials and city staff, that city manager in Coral Gables, Richard Steinberg and his sexting? The list is endless and never stops. It must be something in the water.
Is there anyone in the entire county who is not corrupt? If so, STAND UP AND BE COUNTED. And that includes refusing to keep secret the corruption of others.
This is not acceptable. Let him pay back the taxpayers of Miami Beach from any resources he and his wife have.
How does a guy who looks like this marry a model? Money.
Why does a wife go along with her husband’s illegal activities? Greed.
Enjoy your time in the Florida State Prison, Lopez.
Let me guess…Matti Bower is “horrified.”
I don’t get it. Why is this news? I thought this was the norm of doing business in Miami (So Fl)
The funny thing about all of this is that these guys actually saved the city money by getting these construction firms to be the lowest bidders. In addition, when will there be arrests and sanctions placed on these companies that were in on it?
Let us face it, most developers, condo deal makers, the mortgage industry, real estate lawyers, real estate brokers, salesmen, agents whatever you call them, they are the scum of the earth. Lying, cheating and stealing whenever on whatever they can.
Like always, theirs is the complicit role of government, just like in banking and Wall Street. They all feed off each other, the roaches they are.
The homebuyers, the real workers, builders, craftsmen, contractors – they are the ones that get regularly shafted by them.
I have seen rats in industries but this goes well beyond anything acceptable. Squash most of these roaches, whenever you can.
All the fraud that was committed and virtually nobody went to jail. Still the financial industry wants no regulation, they want to keep on funding this bonanza of thieves, but the public, the real estate markets, home values were wiped out by this blatant scam.
I keep all those roaches away from my real estate and my family. Need none of them roaches to build, sell or buy anything.
Busted! Great job catching this guy! It takes two to be corrupt, the payor and the payee. Hope they can get to the payees as well and it will go a long way to stop these practices that in the end cost us all more.
MBPD, now that you no longer have to secretly give confidential reports to Honest Abe Jorge Gonzalez, WELL… now you can really do police work again. Don’t worry, there are plenty of cells waiting at the Graybar Hotel. Please guys, fill it to the brim.
They should go after the crooked contractors as well. While the rest of us are struggling to run honest companies, these guys are just paying to play.
You might be heartened to know that there are former city employees who left cushy jobs there (e.g., $100,000 jobs) because they did not feel comfortable with all of the surrounding crap that was going on under the former city manager.
They didn’t have firsthand knowledge of taking bribes and all of that stuff that we read about weekly concerning the Beach – even assistant city attorneys are powerless and way too low on the totem pole – but there is a general “atmosphere” of the stereotypical “it’s not what you know but who you know” going on.
There are former Beach employees (who had good paying jobs) who left the city at great risk to their own financial future because they didn’t like being part of it. Also, in a city manager-dominated system like the Beach has, the unelected manager and his 3 top assistants (who make about $220,000) “run” the place. It’s a very weird environment to be in, to be a City of Miami Beach employee.
It would be easy to put a restriction on contract bidders to do only one job for the city(ies) at a time and restrict their bidding until completed projects have been reviewed and favorably graded by city staff, allowing contractors to begin the bid cycle again.
How come Jorge Gonzalez found out that Gus was putting together this team on a very large deal but could not figure out that Gus has been rigging the smaller stuff? This is a case for the FBI for sure.
Come on. You mean Gus never took care of a commissioner or the mayor or any friends? Are we all dumb? And is it funny that the MBPD has to hire or pay snitches to catch a thief? How about using some good undercover cops from other agencies, like Dade County or the State Attorney’s Office. Oops, I forgot some are retired MBPD.
Now let’s just see if Gus has enough information to take down some of the big boys. Jorge Gonzalez is not a good person nor is his sweet friend HR Director Ramiro Inguanzo and City Attorney Jose Smith.
I hope this will lead to the FBI going in and pulling all the RDA records and CPI projects and Finance Dept records. The dirt is buried in the Finance Dept. A lawsuit settled with the former police commander, now EEOC coordinator, Jorge Navaro and others from the police dept. will detail many of the crazy deals made. Not to mention our wonderful retired Police Chief Carlos Noriega. Such a darling man, never did anything improper….
Ray Martinez, I once had a ton of respect for you and stuck my neck out hoping you would become police chief, not Noriega. You know my story and rest assured everyone that played a role in my debacle is getting their just reward. I never give up and I still have an issue with the good-for-nothing liaison hired from the Miami-Dade County Police Dept. working in your office. He is a back stabber. That is nothing new. But to pretend to say Carlos Noriega did nothing wrong with my situation was stupid. You guys covered up an unethical act and everyone knows it was just wrong. Now look at the real criminals and all your good friends. More are going down.
As I said, the big boys were in it together and many more have complicity in these unethical events or possible crimes. KARMA…sooner or later. I have tons of time on my hands… Jorge Gonzalez must think he did a great job writing my position out of the budget. Hate to see you go Jorge. Got a few more axes to grind and heads to roll. Kathy Brooks, you have no idea what you did following the city manager’s orders during my case; you made up for TV financial information to support Jorge Gonzalez’s position. Oh Trish Walker, she thinks her skirt is safe but it’s not. Sooner or later all the dirty deals and back stabbing will come out and I for one will be glad to see those who had no concern for hard working honest people get what they should. It’s called justice! In the good old days, my grandfather, a retired police sergeant from Pittsburgh called it PAYBACK.
Now who is left? Who is the real mastermind of all the money movement? I say let’s start looking in Public Works. You need some clues as to what has been going on there? OMG, I could have a full-time job weeding out all the waste…
– Selected comments have been culled from various social media, including postings on blogs, Twitter, and at Herald.com.