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Then there are the former employees of KB's Trees. Reid is a homeless man who, during most of the year, lives next to an empty building not far from the Grinch-zone. He says Burns offered to pay him $1,000 to work the 2008 holiday season. "He only gave me $600," Reid says. Last year, Burns only paid him $259 for 259 hours he worked, he adds. "The last day we were out there, he showed up, picked up all his equipment, and told us he would be back in 20 minutes to pay us what he owed," Reid recollects. "He never came back. And he never returned my messages or answered his phone when I called him."
Another man who says he is an ex-Burns employee, Max St. Louis, tells basically the same story. The 21-year-old says he worked for Burns for six years and was promised $600 last year. "He said he'd pay me, but just didn't show up," St. Louis says.
And an unnamed 26-year-old woman, who worked for the tree business as well as the failed 2010 state Senate campaign, says she was stiffed to the tune of $1,250. She asked to remain anonymous because she still works in North Miami politics.
Finally, there's Franklin Davis, who says he's owed $350 for one week's work trying to garner votes for Burns during his Senate run. "I don't know how he can walk around with a good conscience knowing he cheats people," says the 50-year-old.
Of course, Burns, who declared bankruptcy in 1997 and then emerged in 2003, insists he pays his debts. And he emphatically denies screwing over his former employees. "I never promised to pay [Reid] $1,000 for any work he did for me," Burns says. "That's not true. He got paid everything he was owed." Davis, he says, never worked for him; the rest is baloney.
So how come Burns moved across the street this year, abandoning the location where he's sold trees the last 33 seasons? He was just pinching pennies, like Scrooge. "I'm paying a third of what I paid last year," Burns says. "Seriously, I've never had a problem. I'm just a guy selling Christmas trees."
And who's the better value? When New Times went to buy a tree a couple weeks ago with three kids in tow, we checked out both locations. Each demanded the same price for a seven-foot tree: $85. The difference? Fahmie lowered it to $80 after some dickering. Burns wouldn't budge. "You aren't going to leave the place you've been buying trees since your kids were crawling, are you?"
We chose the lower-priced tree.