Mining the Store

"These two guys made a mountain out of a molehill"

Mining the Store
Filed under: Flotsam

Every once in a while, Riptide hears about an average blue-collar Miami-Dade citizen engaging in some inexplicably absurd, devious behavior. One example is the criminal case against Franklin Knowles and Larry Martinez, two gents who earn their keep by stopping shoplifters and identity thieves from plundering the Home Depot at North Kendall Drive and SW 127th Avenue. Knowles is the store's loss prevention manager, and Martinez works as the loss prevention investigator.

Two Miami-Dade Police detectives say Knowles and Martinez aided the escape of a woman who might have been guilty of credit card fraud. The men, who remain employed by Home Depot, were recently charged with two felony counts of obstruction of justice. Knowles and Martinez could not be reached for comment.

Knowles and Martinez's defense lawyer, Daniel Lurvey, declined to comment, as did Home Depot spokesman Dan Ogden.

According to police reports, around 3:30 p.m. on August 23, Knowles ran into a Miami-Dade Police officer at the Home Depot. Knowles relayed that he and Martinez were questioning an employee named Christy whom they believed had committed about $10,000 to $15,000 worth of credit card fraud. The officer instructed Knowles to detain the woman.

But when two detectives arrived, Knowles and Martinez claimed they did not want the police involved. "Who called you and why are you here?" Knowles allegedly asked the detectives. Home Depot had not decided whether to pursue criminal charges against Christy, he added.

The officers explained it was their duty to investigate and then warned Knowles and Martinez to neither release Christy nor leave her alone. "We stressed to [them] that we were obligated by law to take her into custody," one of the detectives wrote.

Knowles and Martinez assured the police they would follow their orders. But then a half-hour later, Martinez led the investigators to an employee lounge and revealed Home Depot was terminating Christy's employment, but would not file criminal charges. He told the detectives they could question Christy as long as it was not on Home Depot premises.

"Shocked and in disbelief, we inquired as to the employee's whereabouts," one of the detectives later jotted. "We were told she had been released, free to go out the back door to an area where employees park their cars."

The cops ran the length of the store to the back stockroom, where they caught Christy just as she was walking out the door.

Knowles ordered the police to leave the store. He said they would need a subpoena to obtain the information about Christy.

Later that day, officers questioned Christy at the police station. They released her because there was no evidence to dispute her claims of innocence.

During a recent interview, Det. Ivette Perez contended that Knowles and Martinez deliberately withheld pertinent information. The following morning, police arrested the pair.

"These two guys made a mountain out of a molehill," Perez said.

On Friday, September 22, prosecutors decided not to charge the pair. Cops suggest, just maybe, Home Depot wanted to fire Christy but had no proof. Francisco Alvarado


Hot Water
Filed under: Scanner

In Northwest Miami-Dade there's a long, lonely stretch of Florida's Turnpike that goes 65 blocks without a single exit. From NW 41st to 106th Street, there are no bathroom breaks, no gas station cappuccinos, and a ten-mile turnaround for the distracted driver who misses an exit at either end.

With this inconvenience in mind, construction on a $64.3 million interchange at NW 74th Street is slated to begin in January 2007. There's only one potential problem: Half the county's water supply — some 150 million gallons — passes each day through a 96-inch water main that lies directly beneath the proposed exit.

The main is the only path for raw water traveling from the Northwest Wellfield, where it is pumped from the ground, to the Hialeah-Preston treatment plants, where it is rendered drinkable. If the pipe breaks, hundreds of thousands of people as far south as Miami Beach and downtown would be without potable water, potentially for days.

Employees at the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department (WASD) fear exactly that scenario, and public records show that their objections and concerns about the turnpike interchange were overridden in the interest of completing the project as quickly and cheaply as possible.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) first presented its plans to WASD early this year, and department engineers immediately voiced concerns. On March 7, senior professional engineer Rafael Ballesteros wrote, "We came to the conclusion that the proposed design submitted to us ... is not acceptable because it will put the 96-inch raw main in jeopardy."

According to a WASD employee who requested anonymity out of fear of termination (at least eight employees have been fired from the troubled department in the past month, including Ballesteros, who had worked there for 30 years), WASD higherups ignored this warning, and the department granted a go-ahead for the turnpike project.

If a piece of heavy machinery accidentally breaks, a veritable lake would form. WASD does not stockpile pipes of the water main's size, and it would take days to order a replacement pipe or make repairs.

FDOT says such concerns are exaggerated and contends the chances of the pipe breaking are minimal. "All buried utility lines which are [under] pressure have the chance for a blowout," a turnpike representative wrote in an unsigned e-mail forwarded to Riptide by spokesperson Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller. "In the case of the 96-inch line, the risk is relatively low for any impact to the facility."

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