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
Caride said he approached Nichols in early 2000 about giving general-contracting work to Thermilus's company, T.L.M.C., and when Nichols expressed some skepticism, Caride told her "about Antonio Junior's influence with Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler and other county officials. Caride told Patricia Nichols that Antonio Junior could help them, or really hurt them."
That, apparently, was enough for Nichols. Thermilus's T.L.M.C. was hired to remodel buildings at the fuel farm. In exchange Thermilus would pay Caride kickbacks for the work and for passing along fraudulent billing invoices. Junior would act as a middleman and deliver Thermilus's payments to Caride.
Shortly after approval of the first T.L.M.C. invoices, Caride said, Junior called him. They arranged to meet in the parking lot of Junior's office, where he handed Caride a box. "Here I got a little gift for you and it should brighten your day," he reportedly told Caride. Inside the box was a shaving-kit bag from Sharper Image. Inside the bag was a bundle of $50 and $100 bills, about $1500 in all. "See green? Bye," Caride recalled Junior telling him.
Another time, Caride said, "Antonio Junior stopped by Caride's office ... with a Lord & Taylor box. Antonio Junior told Caride: öI figured that you would like something nice.' Caride looked in the box and observed a blue and burgundy colored silk shirt. Caride discovered that $3500.00 in fifties and hundreds was under the shirt. Antonio Junior stated to him, öJust keeping my part of the deal.' Caride asked why he [Caride] wasn't getting more money. Antonio Junior replied that Caride should remember that he had to pay their friend downtown from his share."
After a while, Thermilus suspected Junior was skimming the kickback money meant for Caride. He told Caride he wanted to deal with him directly. Caride, however, was reluctant because "it would make Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler and Antonio Junior mad at him and would put the ASIG contract in jeopardy. Evens Thermilus told him not to worry because he is hooked up with Barbara Carey-Shuler too. He stated that he had previously dated her goddaughter or relative. Evens Thermilus convinced him that it was OK."
When Junior found out "he had been cut out of the fraud with the TLMC invoice," Caride said, he became upset and warned, "You can't trust them [Thermilus and his associates], they are connivers." Then Junior flexed his political muscle, according to Caride. He summoned Caride to a meeting at Carey-Shuler's office at the school board's annex building. "Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler asked Caride if everything with the fuel farm security was O.K.? Caride informed her that it was. Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler told Caride: öWell, keep him there and keep him happy' referring to Antonio Junior.... Caride stated that Antonio Junior reminded him that Barbara Carey-Shuler is the one who votes on his job. Caride stated that Antonio Junior made a regular habit of reminding him öspecial friends keep you in place.'"
Caride was back in business with Junior, but Caride still had his deal with Thermilus. In fact, Caride told investigators, he received more than $230,000 in cash from Thermilus, adding that several T.L.M.C. invoices Caride sent to Patricia Nichols for approval were utterly fake, "submitted solely to generate cash to steal from the [Miami-Dade Aviation Department]. Patricia Nichols approved all invoices despite the fact that much of the work was never done or was grossly overpriced." Thermilus has admitted submitting more than one million dollars in invoices to the airport through Caride.
Patricia Nichols is described as the key to the smooth operation of the various fuel-farm scams. According to Caride, that's why Thermilus and Roberto Finale, from the maintenance company Waldron Enterprises, showered her with gifts, including visits to spas, coupons to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and other restaurants, a digital camera, and more. Caride said he was present when Thermilus had a large flat-screen TV loaded into her car (which Thermilus independently confirmed for investigators). When Nichols at one point balked, Caride said he had another company allegedly involved in the fraud, American Petroleum Services, buy yet another TV for her. Caride himself delivered the large projection-screen unit to her house. (When investigators confronted Nichols, she claimed she became suspicious about the gift and disposed of it the next day by taking it to the dump.)
So when Nichols said her job might be in jeopardy, the whole operation was at risk. Caride described a meeting with Nichols in which she complained that her job status was temporary, she was only an acting project manager. "I have been playing ball and I have been nice, but now I want something," Nichols allegedly told Caride. He asked her if she wanted another TV or a day at the spa. Nichols reportedly responded, "No, I want a promotion, chief of the department." Caride said he'd see what he could do. "Quid pro quo," she supposedly told him. Caride said he gave her a puzzled look and she responded, "You know, tit for tat, something for something."
Caride said he immediately contacted Antonio Junior on Nichols's behalf with a "top-priority request," telling him: "Let's see how good you are." Caride said Junior told him "he would get with Barbara Carey-Shuler and get it done." The next day Junior called Caride and allegedly said "that he had contacted Barbara Carey-Shuler and she said that it would be taken care of."