Three weeks ago, when she was trying to keep colleagues from putting her name on the same recall ballot as Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, County Commissioner Natacha Seijas pontificated about her self-professed squeaky clean 18-year tenure. "In all the years that I have been here, I have never broken the law," she noted. "I have never been investigated. I have never gotten into any problems."
True, true. But Seijas sure loves to keep company with individuals who have abused the public trust for their own personal benefit. Take a look at who has contributed to Abre Los Brazos, a political action committee seeking to block her recall, and you will find that Zitro Inc. donated $10,000. County manager George Burgess hit that company's owner, Hector P. Ortiz, with a two-year ban from obtaining county contracts in 2005.
The suspension stemmed from Ortiz's role in a notorious scandal at Miami International Airport. His involvement was laid out in a 2001 federal bribery case against Richard Mendez, an ex-county official who once oversaw construction projects at the airport. Prosecutors claimed Ortiz gave Mendez money in exchange for steering contracts to him and his son. Ortiz's company received a piece of a soil-cleaning deal worth $2 million, even though it had no experience removing polluted dirt.
Ortiz, who described the transactions as loans between friends, was never charged, but Mendez pled guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. The year Ortiz was barred, his company Horsepower Electric locked up a no-bid, ten-year contract, worth an estimated $58 million, to maintain and install safety devices on streetlights throughout the county. But a letter from then-Miami-Dade Police director Robert Parker to Burgess outlining the allegations against Ortiz triggered the disbarment proceedings and killed the deal.
Seijas and the Hialeah electrician go way back. In 1999, Ortiz hosted a fundraiser for her reelection campaign at the Biltmore Hotel. That year, Horsepower executives, lawyers, employees, and relatives of Ortiz contributed more than $10,000. Since the ban was lifted on December 31, 2006, Horsepower has been awarded $11.6 million-worth of streetlight and traffic systems contracts by the county commission.