Wackenhut Stands up to Miami-Dade

Security firm denies ripping off the county and fires back with a $20 million lawsuit.

After four years of basically taking it lying down, Wackenhut — the firm contracted to provide security for Miami-Dade Transit — came out swinging last week, announcing a $20 million lawsuit against the county and its manager, George Burgess. "Wackenhut says, 'Enough,'" thundered company chief Drew Levine, and by "enough," he meant enough with the four-year-old charges that the Palm Beach Gardens-based company has falsely billed the county $3.4 million for security work on mass transit systems.

The county maintains that the security firm — South Florida's version of Blackwater — failed to post guards at certain Metrorail stops and billed the county for it anyway. An initial audit, performed in 2008, estimated Wackenhut had billed Miami-Dade $6.26 million for work it didn't perform. That number was later revised to $3.4 million.

The county wants that money back, and what's more, Burgess has already said he plans to terminate the county's 20-year contract with the company. That deal, which pays Wackenhut an estimated $17 million a year, is set to expire in November.

Wackenhut counters that the county-hired auditor used "fatally flawed" methods to come up with the $3.4 million figure. At last Wednesday's press conference, Levine denied any systematic overbilling and said if the county gives the security contract to a new firm, it could spell trouble for mass transit riders. Why? Because, according to Levine, competitors have a less rigorous hiring practice than Wackenhut, which allows only former military or law enforcement personnel to work as guards.

Regardless, it seems Wackenhut's decades-long relationship with the county is nearing an end. Besides the Metrorail contract, the county is also looking to find a replacement for Wackenhut at Miami-Dade Juvenile Services and at the Public Works Department.

The county stands by its audit.

"The taxpayers were overbilled. We want to be made whole," says county spokeswoman Victoria Mallette. "It would be irresponsible for us to continue doing business with an entity that we believe has overbilled us."

 
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