By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
On January 9, 1997, Tecina was given a notice of default officially severing it from the job.
Almost two and a half years had passed since Tecina had signed on. Most of the money had been spent and less than half the work was done.
"We didn't know Tecina from a hill of beans," remembers John Hazelroth of Gagnier, Hicks Associates. "It was all so long ago. I sat in on some of the meetings when we were discussing various contractors, and Tecina seemed alright. But I remember that it was Middlebrooks, the project's architect, who was excited about Tecina -- about their engineering abilities. Middlebrooks seemed to feel that Tecina could take on some of the engineering for the project and save his firm some work."
Early in 1997 Coral Gables attorney Reginald J. Clyne was hired by FHC to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company to cover Tecina's shortcomings. More than nine months passed before the claim was settled, with the company paying FHC $300,000 on September 26 of that year. FHC refuses to say how much of the settlement was paid to Clyne as fees and expenses. During this time, work at the job site came to a standstill.
Tecina's failure and subsequent departure from the scene not only brought work to a halt, it created yet another pressing problem: FHC now owned an unguarded, half-finished, construction site in which they had invested a couple million dollars. The area required professional protection in a neighborhood where anything not fastened down would likely disappear.
In an August 21, 1997, letter from the security company to FHC, Command threatened to swiftly sue the agency for nonpayment of $11,759 for roughly one month of guard duty at the site. FHC promptly changed companies to Garrison Protective of Florida. They would later switch yet again to Equalizer Security.
Based on bills on file with the City of Miami, guarding Sugar Hill appears to have cost approximately $9000 per month -- about $100,000 per year. Over three years of delays, the project incurred security costs of between $200,000 and $400,000. FHC refuses to reveal where that money came from or exactly how much was spent.
The $300,000 settlement from the insurance company upped the entire project budget to build Sugar Hill to $2,646,000. It is unclear whether FHC received additional insurance money from the community center fire or for vandalism and burglaries that occurred at Sugar Hill, even though records indicate thousands of dollars were initially spent to insure the site. Yet as the money available for the project increased, the number of apartments to be built inexplicably dropped from 26 to 24.
According to a city inspection in February 1997, the project was far from finished. Still awaiting installation were handrails, light fixtures, landscaping, electrical outlets, air conditioners, closet doors, shelves, windowsills, floor coverings, toilets, bathroom sinks, interior doors, exterior stucco, and more.
No one had the courage to turn off the money spigot for a six-month project that had turned into a four-year debacle.
During the insurance-settlement negotiations, Clyne informed the city on May 30, 1997, that FHC intended to complete the project and asked the city to confirm that $546,128 remained available for the construction.
On June 19 that same year, Eisenhart reported that Clyne had "provided this office with a copy of estimated cost ($657,224) submitted by Sterling Contractors, Inc., to complete the project."
In a memo four days later, Clyne enthusiastically reported to the city staff that the head of Sterling, LaVerne Fernander, is "one of the best-known small black contractors.... I have never personally heard anyone criticize her work." He went on to say that FHC had nothing to do with choosing the firm.
On October 28 Sterling signed a contract for $750,050. The terms eerily echo those agreed to by Tecina: Sterling would finish six months after it began, and it would pay a $100-per-day penalty if it failed to finish on time.
The amount of the Sterling contract escalated faster than the war in Vietnam. A year later the Sterling contract had grown to $869,561, an amount equal to 58 percent of the original Tecina contract. If Sterling had finished this new contract on time and within budget, it would follow that Tecina had completed only 42 percent of the job.
But, of course, Sterling didn't finish.
A look into Sterling's expenditures shows not much had changed. Among the waste one invoice paid by Sterling stands out. The bill has no imprinted letterhead. Rather it is a simple boilerplate form available at any office-supply store, from a company calling itself the "T&R Group." It is dated February 24, 1998, and requests payment for 24 small Westinghouse refrigerators, 24 Westinghouse electric ranges, and 24 Newton range hoods. Nothing is itemized. The $40,321 bill was paid by check number 3308 on February 29, 1998.
Obviously bargain hunting was not part of the contract. Similar appliances could be found at full retail from any of the large outlet stores for less than $15,000 in total. Sterling seems to have paid $25,000 above average costs.
The location of the T&R Group, typed on the face of the bill, is a phantom address. The section of the street referred to on the invoice does not exist.