In August 2005, Robert Word got a $175,000 county grant. The 51-year-old businessman promised to bring a culinary arts training center, a veterans' assistance program, an art gallery, and a Subway restaurant to Overtown.
It never happened. Word ended up using $132,000 of the money to buy himself property in Colorado and pay off personal debts, according to an investigation by the Miami-Dade Inspector General. He was arrested this past February for bilking the trust.
Then, on June 23, Word pleaded guilty to a felony count of fraud. He was sentenced to six months in county jail and 29 years of probation, and he must pay restitution to the Metro-Miami Action Plan Trust (MMAP), a quasi-independent economic development agency.
It might sound like the story of a greedy criminal abusing the public trust. But it's really much more. Word's plea closes the latest ugly chapter in MMAP's troubled three-decade history. Last year, county leaders dissolved its board of trustees following an audit that criticized management. Miami-Dade County commissioners also created a task force to determine whether the agency should be shut down.
In Word's case, the inspector general reported MMAP failed to ask even the simplest questions. For example, the trust did not verify Word's claims he had an agreement with Subway to open his own franchise. A call to Subway headquarters would have revealed Word was lying. According to the inspector general's report, Word never had a majority interest in any Subway restaurant and did not have a license to open a franchise.
Interim Executive Director John Dixon Jr. informs New Times a new board of directors has taken over and a reconstituted trust will most likely focus on advocating economic development in Miami-Dade's poor neighborhoods, rather than doling out grants. "That is where we are," he says.