Chris Korge Rides Again

Doing the phone card shuffle at MIA

Reached at home, Oxendine, who has made millions of dollars financing TV and radio stations across the country, affirmed that he only recently formed Blackstar to participate in WTN's bid. "I am a strategic partner," Oxendine explained. "I don't think it takes rocket science to sell prepaid phone cards. I view this as an entry-level opportunity to participate in economic development in Miami-Dade County."

Yet Pelaez doesn't have kind words for LAE or its owner, Juan José Pino, either. Pelaez, a politically connected Cuban-born businessman whose company placed third in the ITB, needs to undercut LAE in order to get the contract. During an interview at Communitel's office near Florida International University's University Park campus, Pelaez attacked Pino's allegedly unsavory past. Pelaez is known to go on the offensive when his business interests are in peril. In fact, three years ago he used his friend and political ally Alex Penelas to veto an airport contract that Pelaez had lost. The county commission, however, overturned the mayor's veto and awarded the contract to Pelaez's competitor, Secure Wrap of Miami.

Pelaez, sitting near a picture of himself posing with former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, pointed to an article in El Nuevo Heraldlast September that detailed allegations implicating Pino in the Argentine criminal probe of former president Carlos Menem's administration. The article published accusations that Pino may have laundered money for Ramon Hernandez, Menem's confidant and private secretary. The article also reported, and court records verified, that Pino was held in contempt of court for refusing to disclose his bank records to his ex-wife, Claudia Rasso, who was suing Pino for not paying her $500,000 in alimony. Pelaez additionally accused Pino of not being overly forthright with airport officials about the sale of LAE three years ago to Ursus Telecom, a now-bankrupt telecommunications firm; ditto Pino's subsequent repurchase of LAE from Ursus during the company's bankruptcy proceedings last year. (LAE, for its part, did disclose the information in its bid proposal.) "These are serious problems going on at the airport and no one is doing anything about it," Pelaez moaned. "Who the hell is minding the store?"

De Grandy, a former state prosecutor and former state representative, refused to comment on Pelaez's allegations. "What does any of that have to do with this bid?" de Grandy asked incredulously. "Whether the man was in an acrimonious divorce or whatever has nothing to do with this bid process. It's all rumor and innuendo. And you know what? No one has the balls to stand in front of the podium at the county commission and try to prove it."

Meanwhile, as his competitors duke it out, Korge, along with Meegan, recently approached assistant aviation director Steven Baker for another favor. According to a January 15 letter from Baker to Meegan, they asked Baker to remove discount long-distance pay phones from the airport. Meegan and Korge reasoned that the phones would prevent WTN from meeting their guarantee to the airport. Baker, however, balked and informed Meegan that the airport was keeping the discount phones. If WTN can't meet the guarantee, Baker said, the partnership could either modify its price or withdraw its bid.

Of course, it's highly unlikely that renaissance man Korge is going to allow that to happen.

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