A Revoltin' Development

Dade's shoddy builders beware: A new business regulation task force is looking to make some surprise visits

This investigation is quicker than the first -- about 40 minutes -- and the task force uncovers only two problems: a sprinkler subcontractor who might not be properly registered with the state, and an unregistered work truck.

The third target is another luxury condominium complex, this one at 1677 Collins Ave. As the lead car pulls up to the building the foreman is standing at the curbside, like a doorman. He couldn't be nicer. An investigator explains the task force's purpose. "Fine, fine," the foreman chirps. "Come on in!" The contractor and all the subcontractors have their papers and permits ready. A 35-minute walk-through turns up nothing.

Then the truth leaks out: The owners have been tipped off. A police officer working off-duty security in front of the building says word of the task force's impending arrival had circulated an hour earlier. Everybody was scurrying around, assembling their required documents, putting on their mandatory hardhats.

Returning to his car, Cates is enraged. He suspects the source of the leak was a member of the task force. "If I find out who tipped them off," he seethes, "I swear to God I'll file criminal charges." Torres acknowledges, however, that someone at one of the two earlier sites could have sent out the word to friends or colleagues at other Beach construction sites. "It's probably spreading like wildfire," he says.

The next raid, at a cluster of three buildings farther north on Collins, is hampered not by a leak or by hostile foremen but by lunch. Almost all the workers are on break. Still, Beach inspectors discover that construction is ongoing at a building already hit with a stop-work order; violating the order is an arrestable misdemeanor. The investigators clear the site and press on to the final destination, Seacoast Towers, at 5151 Collins Ave.

First, though, Torres mounts a stoop and addresses his flagging troops. "This job we're going to might be a very hazardous job," he cautions. "They have a tendency to be very violent on this site. Stay in pairs. Let's try to secure the outside so no one gets out. Let's lock it down!"

But Torres's warning is unnecessary. The building's management is cordial and accommodating, and the contractor is far from hostile. While Cates and Torres lead a team to the construction trailers to check paperwork, other investigators split up in groups and travel to different floors. In one unit they discover sloppy wire and duct work, as well as poorly installed windows. They also come across four electrical laborers working without the supervision of a licensed journeyman. Several inspectors will make a return visit the next day to review the workmanship more thoroughly and inspect the contractor's files more carefully. Before leaving, they slap the electrical subcontractor with a $500 fine for failing to supervise his workers, and fines of $200 each for the laborers.

Azan is clearly frustrated by an industry constantly in flux, the squirrely nature of some people in the construction business, and the difficulty of regulating them. "We see so much activity going on out there," he says shaking his head, "and not enough enforcement to keep up with it."

Back at the staging area in the Michigan Avenue parking lot, the weary task force tallies its accomplishments: seven sites, more than 40 license checks, eight code-compliance citations, six pending follow-up investigations into subcode construction and unapproved building plans, five workers compensation violations, five citations for unlicensed or unmarked commercial vehicles, and two stop-work orders.

Left off the inventory: one suspected information leak..

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