By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
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
Victor Monzon-Aguirre this past July pleaded guilty to forgery, fraud, and providing a false notary for his part in a scam in which a company he helped run submitted forged documents to Miami-Dade County in order to receive $500,000. By the time Monzon-Aguirre was being investigated he had left the company and was head of the City of Miami's neighborhood services.
The day before his arrest, Monzon-Aguirre held a press conference and copped to his crime, which he described as technical in nature. "I totally admit to these charges," he was quoted in the Miami Herald. "But when you compare it to everything else that's happening in the rest of the county, it's nothing." His speech was a clear attempt to win sympathy and perhaps save any future career in the public sector. "No one was harmed," he said. "I did not profit, nor did my employer, not one penny."
He went on to say how shocked he was that the county's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) sought criminal charges against him.
Monzon-Aguirre was a connected guy working at a connected place. He previously held a powerful government job as the director of the General Services Administration for the county until joining Lanzo Lining/Lanzo Construction Company in 1996. He left that job to run a city department. At the time of his arrest, the school district was about to hire him for an executive position. His wife Esther is a lobbyist who works with former county manager Sergio Pereira, who happens to be Lanzo's lobbyist. Lanzo needs a lobbyist because of the numerous government contracts it seeks.
As soon as he gave his mea culpa speech, Monzon-Aguirre became a poster child for what's wrong with the mentality of a certain clique of high-level bureaucrats in Miami: If it doesn't involve midnight payoffs of embezzled money, it ain't a crime. I liked the subtext to his message, too: Why focus on him when worse things have been done?
In full disclosure, I worked at the OIG from 2000-2001. I had nothing to do with this case. But I know the office, and didn't think that anyone there would screw a poor businessman for simply signing his name in the wrong place. So I put in a public records request to view the file at the State Attorney's Office when the case closed.
Here's what happened: Lanzo won a five-million-dollar contract from the county to install and repair sewer pipes in 1999. In 2001, the county's Department of Business Development (DBD), which routinely reviews the payrolls of contracted companies to make sure they are complying with the county's living-wage ordinance, discovered that Lanzo had underpaid three laborers $1731.03. The DBD ordered it to reimburse the workers. When the company failed to respond, the DBD sent Lanzo a violation notice on February 12, 2001. When it didn't get a response by April 27, the DBD ordered that $1700 be withheld from a scheduled payment to Lanzo. The company would get the money when it proved it paid the workers. When the company didn't respond by October 10, eight months after the first violation notice, DBD ordered a full stop-payment on the $500,000 still due Lanzo.
Now they had the chief operating officer's attention. Monzon-Aguirre couldn't get to the fax machine fast enough. The same day the county turned off the financial spigot, Monzon-Aguirre rushed to the DBD copies of checks cut to the workers along with affidavits signed by them saying they'd been paid. Monzon-Aguirre claimed the checks had been languishing on someone's desk for months; the stop-payment prompted him to find them. Lanzo got its money.
Turns out it was all fake. Those checks never made it to the workers, and the signatures on those affidavits, notarized by Monzon-Aguirre himself, were forgeries. The DBD suspected this when it followed up a month later asking for copies of the canceled checks. (Here's an encouraging bit of government follow-through. Lanzo officials probably thought their little problem would disappear in the abyss of county bureaucracy. But the department, headed by Marsha Jackman, was too diligent for them.) Now Monzon-Aguirre sputtered a new excuse, saying that those checks were no good. A new set of checks was issued in November to the workers.
This was just too suspicious for the DBD overseers, who contacted the OIG. Agents subpoenaed Lanzo's bank records. They interviewed the workers and showed them the affidavits they supposedly signed in October, along with the October checks that were supposedly delivered to them out in the field. And the three workers, who had all left Lanzo by then, said they had never seen those checks or signed the affidavits. They did receive the second round of checks in November.
Monzon-Aguirre confessed that he notarized the signatures without seeing who signed them. That's why he says it was a technical crime.
But in reality, this is what he did: He took part in a lie about paying three laborers a measly $1700, which the company clearly had no intention of ever paying until it absolutely had to do so. And he or someone else at the company forged a document in order to get access to a lot of county money.