Disagreement over a corruption investigation at Miami International Airport has prompted the Miami-Dade Police Department to stop working with the U.S. attorney’s office. The Miami Herald says the rift signals “the possible demise of a potent partnership that has sent several public figures to prison in recent years.”
At issue is the airport’s food and beverage concessions. For three years, police and federal agents have investigated whether prime contractor HMS Host, used minority-owned front firms to channel money to political friends of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and county commissioners. The company denies wrongdoing.
The Herald says the case “involves some of the biggest political power brokers in town.” HMS Host says it is the world’s largest provider of airport concessions. Its lead consultant is lobbyist Christopher Korge, a Democratic fundraiser. Host managers told investigators they relied on Korge to tell them which lobbyists and politically connected minority partners would get the deal approved by the County Commission. There is nothing illegal about a person getting paid for his or her political connections, but doing it under the guise of minority participation could fall in the realm of fraud, experts say.
Miami-Dade Police Director Carlos Alvarez pulled his detectives out of the case in November, frustrated by what he said were needless delays and a general reluctance on the part of U.S. Attorney Marcos Jiménez to prosecute cases involving powerful players. Jiménez, appointed by President Bush in 2002, criticized Alvarez’s move to withdraw his investigators as irresponsible.
The Herald says the rift between Miami’s top federal law-enforcement officer and the police director, who is running for county mayor, raises serious questions about how corruption will be fought. Since the two agencies began to work together in 1998, they prosecuted former Miami police chief Donald Warshaw for stealing from a children’s charity, the airport’s building chief for taking bribes, a teachers union president for ripping off his own union, and 13 Miami police officers for questionable shootings.