By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Terrence McCoy
By Jeff Weinberger
By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
Pino was unavailable for comment despite several attempts to contact him via de Grandy, who says his client is always traveling and difficult to reach. Pino may be laying low for other reasons. The telecommunications entrepreneur is under investigation for allegedly laundering money as part of the illicit enrichment of Ramon Hernandez, who served as the personal secretary to former Argentine President Carlos Menem, according to a series of articles in El Nuevo Herald and El Clarin, Argentina's largest daily newspaper. In a telephone interview with New Times, an Argentine anti-corruption official confirmed an ongoing investigation of Pino, Hernandez, and others. Investigators are poring over numerous transactions involving Pino and Hernandez, including property purchases in Miami and wire transfers that allegedly link the two men, says Marcelo Colombo, investigations coordinator for Argentina's anti-corruption office, an agency within the country's Ministry of Justice. Pino's main accuser is a former lover, Maria Teresa Bisso, who worked as LAE's marketing director until 1997. According to her statements, Pino "would not withstand an audit to justify his income and expenses." Recently Norberto Oyarbide, the Argentine federal judge presiding over the case, subpoenaed records for several telecommunications companies Pino owns, including LAE.
Pino, a former Argentine federal police officer who immigrated to Miami in 1983, also provoked the wrath of a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge. According to court records, Pino's ex-wife, Claudia Rasso, sued him in 2001 for his refusal to pay her $500,000 as part of their 1998 divorce settlement. Pino was supposed to pay her the money upon the sale of LAE to Ursus Telecom, Inc. that year.
Judge Alejandro Ferrer held Pino in contempt for refusing to allow Rasso's attorney access to Pino's personal and company bank records. During the May 2001 civil court hearing, Ferrer admonished Pino for his evasiveness. "I don't know you from Adam. You could be laundering money or hiding money from your wife or be completely aboveboard. There's no way for me to know ... I only know there's enough reason for me to feel suspicious about what has gone on up to now."
Pino also has problems paying his fees to the aviation department on time. According to the department's finance division, vendors are supposed to pay fees to the airport on the first of every month. On June 10 of last year, a month before county bureaucrats first recommended awarding the contract to LAE, the aviation department's commercial operations manager, Patricia Ryan, sent Pino notice that he owed the county $58,096. "Although we have called your office on several occasions, you have not responded accordingly," Ryan wrote in a letter to Pino. On June 25, LAE chief financial officer Sergio Rodriguez finally delivered two checks for $20,833 each to the aviation department. In December Pino's company paid the balance of $16,430 to the airport.
A recent review of financial documents and copies of checks filed with the aviation department shows that LAE has paid its fee at least a month late for the past six months. For example the company did not pay its November bill until December 15 -- coincidentally a day before the county commission meeting in which Burgess was to seek, for the second time, approval to negotiate a contract with LAE. Reached on his cell phone, Rodriguez claims he was unaware the company was paying its fees late. "Whenever we're supposed to pay, that's when we pay," Rodriguez asserts.
De Grandy argues that Pino's problems have nothing to do with the county's bid requirements pertaining to the new phone card contract, and says Pelaez is tossing around red herrings to prevent LAE from winning the contract. "If [Pelaez] thinks county commissioners should consider this defamatory information, then why doesn't he bring it up during a public forum so I can have an opportunity to respond?" de Grandy fumes.
In October de Grandy fired off a letter to Carey-Shuler regarding Communitel. The lawyer, who is LAE's only lobbyist (as opposed to Pelaez's five), informed the chairwoman that it had been brought to his attention that "having lost twice on the merits before two neutral [arbitrators], Communitel has re-engaged its lobbying campaign to derail the county manager's recommendation" to award LAE the phone card contract.
De Grandy's distaste for Pelaez's tactics stems from an entanglement three years ago. De Grandy represented Secure Wrap of Miami, the company that was awarded an airport contract to enshroud luggage with layers of theft-deterrent cellophane. Pelaez owned a rival firm, Quick Packing, Inc., that lost to Secure Wrap even though Pelaez offered more money to the county during a lengthy bid process. In the qualifications portion of that bid, Quick Packing was placed fourth by a county selection committee. The aviation department allowed Secure Wrap, which came in first in qualifications, to match Quick Packing's $1.5 million proposal.
During the course of that bidding war, the county, seemingly abruptly, decided to conduct an audit of Secure Wrap, Quick Packing, and a third company, Riveri Strapping, Inc., which operated at MIA under the same test permits as the phone card companies. De Grandy claims Pelaez unleashed his lobbyists to raise questions about the finances of the three baggage wrap companies in order to force the audit, which delayed that contract award by several months.