Very Big Bucks

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

For this pending fight, Korge and his fellow Greyhound lobbyists are sitting pretty. DFI must lock up a two-thirds majority to wrestle away the contract, meaning Greyhound only needs the support of five commissioners to win.

It is DFI's lobbyists who will now have to go nuclear, and they already have. The campaign against Greyhound is being based in part on a racial and ethnic plea: For too many years, goes the argument, Greyhound ignored Dade's minority communities. In fact, it only took on black and Hispanic partners when that became necessary to keep the contract.

"I'm going to go to the radio," Rebull vows, referring to Miami's Spanish-language talk shows. "I'm going to make a very strong campaign on the irregularities of the process. I'm going to let the people know about Greyhound. I'm going to let them know what their commissioners are going to be voting for. How can a commissioner like Bruce Kaplan, for instance, say that minorities are not supposed to be window dressing, and then consider voting for Greyhound?"

Already enlisted in DFI's battle strategy is radio personality Marta Flores, who for months has been speaking out about the pending duty-free contract and what a fine operator DFI would make. (Apparently DFI would also make a fine place for Flores's son to work. Julio Rebull confirms that he and Flores have spoken about getting her son a job with the duty-free company. "I know him," Rebull says of Flores's son, "and I'm definitely trying to help him get a job.")

Both Rebull and lobbyist Phil Hamersmith have been attacking the minority participation on Greyhound's side, with particular attention paid to Sergio Pino, who made his fortune in the wholesale plumbing business. "What does Sergio Pino bring to this deal?" Rebull huffs. "Showers? Plumbing? I know he donates a lot to political campaigns, but I don't know what else he brings to the table."

Greyhound president J.P. Miquel defends Pino's inclusion. "He's a contractor," Miquel says, "and there is going to be a lot of renovation. That's going to be his work."

DFI, of course, is vulnerable to the same kind of criticism. For instance, the only airport-related work experience listed on the resume of DFI partner Kendrick Meek is this: During summer vacations in high school and college he worked as a baggage handler at MIA.

DFI president Al Carfora says Meek, a former captain in the Florida Highway Patrol, was selected solely for his background in security and law enforcement -- not because he is a state representative or the son of such a prominent politician. "If you want to draw political connections as to how we drew up our minority teams," Carfora says, "that's up to you."

DFI's Hamersmith, however, is a bit more candid. "Look, I'm not going to kid you," he says. "One of the reasons, but certainly not the only reason, Kendrick is a partner is because he is a well-known African American and obviously his name gives us some political clout." And to some extent, Hamersmith admits, the same holds true for Maritza Pereira and Edward Lasseville, neither of whom have any experience in the duty-free industry. "We're not going to pretend it's not there," says Hamersmith, referring to the practice of selecting minority partners more for their "political clout" than their business acumen. "And I'm not faulting Greyhound for doing it either. But it is a matter of amount."

Meek is circumspect in his comments. "Some folks may look at it and say all of the folks on the team are there because they know someone on the commission," he says. "But I'm comfortable with being a part of this group. I'm not a county commission regular. This is my first time going through this process. They first talked to me before I was even elected." In addition, Meek stresses, he has not used his position in Tallahassee as leverage against commissioners.

DFI has also been arguing that Greyhound has simply held the duty-free contract, under questionable circumstances, for too long. "They've been there longer than Castro," says Rebull. "They've been there since the Eisenhower administration." But even on this point, DFI is vulnerable. The company now controls the duty-free shops at the Port of Miami under a contract, like Greyhound's, that was never competitively bid.

In 1987 the county commission awarded the sweetheart, no-bid seaport deal to a company called Miami Duty Free, one of whose principal partners was Julio Rebull. Five years ago DFI purchased Miami Duty Free and inherited its contract. Under the terms of that contract, DFI was only required to pay the county three percent of gross sales during its first two years of operation. In the third and fourth years, that figure rose to four percent, and in the fifth year it was raised to five percent. After ten years, the figure will increase to ten percent. (Still a long way from the 33 percent DFI was willing to bid at the airport.)

The county manager who recommended that commissioners approve the no-bid contract was Sergio Pereira, who is now a lobbyist for DFI and whose wife would be an ownership partner should the company win the contract from Greyhound. In 1987 Pereira predicted that the seaport duty-free contract would earn the county more than $200,000 in its first year alone. The actual figure turned out to be a mere $22,000. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1995, DFI sold more than $1.8 million in merchandise but was only required to pay the county $126,000.

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