Very Big Bucks

The most lucrative contract in the history of Miami International Airport is about to be awarded to one lucky company

At the time it was proposed, the Cuban cigar rule clearly seemed to favor DFI. Given the widespread belief that Greyhound's days were numbered, and the relative weakness of Brasif's experience, the contract appeared to be DFI's for the taking. And indeed the company amassed a formidable team to accomplish that. Among the local minority partners DFI solicited to add political clout to its proposal are Maritza Pereira, wife of former county manager Sergio Pereira; state Rep. Kendrick Meek, who is also the son of Congresswoman Carrie Meek; Edward Lasseville, the son of long-time political Hispanic consultant and pollster John Lasseville; and Julio Rebull, Sr., a political consultant with close ties to several commissioners, notably Natacha Millan and Javier Souto. Together DFI's minority partners would own 25 percent of the business.

In addition, DFI recruited equally high-profile lobbyists, including Phil Hamersmith, who has run election campaigns for three current commissioners; and Joseph Bober, who was chief of staff for former commissioner Sherman Winn and also served as an aide to commission chairman Art Teele. Even former county manager Sergio Pereira has signed on to lobby for his wife's company. DFI also hired the politically entrenched law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, whose stable of well-heeled commission arm-twisters includes Charles Papy, Al Dotson, Jr., and Eileen Mehta.

"We've been watching and waiting for this contract for years," admits Julio Rebull, who denies playing any role in the Cuban cigar issue. "I was as surprised as anyone by that," he says. "People think that I am a kingmaker. But on this issue I have been very careful. I respect [Commissioner] Souto and he has his own way of thinking."

With its team in place and the field narrowed, DFI, its partners, and its lobbyists had reason to be optimistic. But the Greyhound that DFI is competing against in 1995 is not the same bungling Greyhound that appeared before the county aviation committee a year earlier requesting an extension. "This was a desperate company, which figured all of the odds were against them," says DFI lobbyist Hamersmith. "And they went out and got every bit of political talent that wasn't already tied down."

Greyhound's principal minority partner -- if they are awarded the new contract -- will be Sergio Pino, former president of the politically potent Latin Builders Association (LBA). Under Pino's tenure, the LBA set new standards in contributing to county commission election campaigns, and his own influence at the airport is legendary. (Three years ago, in a highly unusual deal, commissioners awarded him the contract to operate newsstands at the airport even though his company did not receive the highest ranking.)

Another Greyhound minority partner is Carole Ann Taylor, who for more than five years was an aide in the Miami mayor's office, first for Maurice Ferre and later for Xavier Suarez. She currently operates Bayside To Go, a retail shop at Bayside Marketplace. Yet another minority partner is Maria Argudin, who is the assistant Miami city clerk. Also on the minority team is public relations specialist Jorge DeCardenas.

Greyhound actually had the luxury of turning away powerful minorities who were looking to attach themselves to such a lucrative project. For example, Greyhound's president, J.P. Miquel, confirms he was approached by Carlos Herrera, who currently heads the Latin Builders Association as well as being president of Homestead Air Base Developers, Inc. Herrera's long-time friend, Armando Gutierrez, tried to get hired on as a lobbyist. "I talked to Greyhound," Gutierrez acknowledges, "but by then they already had their team together. We kept hearing that there was no room at the inn."

As it is, Greyhound's registered lobbyists include the respected Easton "Dusty" Melton, who has been the company's principal government spokesman for years; Dewey Knight III, son of the former county manager; David Kennedy, who was Miami mayor from 1971 to 1973; and Marie Petit, veteran aide to Commissioner Maurice Ferre.

Greyhound's law firm, Hanzman Criden Korge Hertzberg & Chaykin, may be one of the newest in Miami, having only formed in October, but it's already one of the most politically well connected at county hall, with a direct line not only to commission offices but into the county manager's office as well. Among the principals is Chris Korge, one of the most effective lobbyists in Dade, and former federal prosecutor Steve Chaykin. The firm also recently hired George Lopez, former chief of staff for Commissioner Alex Penelas and one of County Manager Armando Vidal's closest friends. This past summer, Vidal's teenage son worked as an errand boy in the law office.

Caught somewhere in between these two political behemoths was the Brazilian contender, Brasif Services. As the company's vice president, it was up to Eduardo Pereira (no relation to the former county manager, or for that matter to anyone important in Dade County) to guide Brasif through Dade's maze. "It was the first time we bid here in the United States," says Pereira. "We certainly learned a lot."

The initial thing they had to deal with was the Cuban cigar rule. "For us, as Brazilians, selling Cuban cigars is not a big problem," Pereira says. "We do sell Cuban cigars in our Brazilian airports, but we promised to stop if we won the contract. We understood the rules. If you want to bid, you have to accept the rules of the game."

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