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Vanessa Shelton knew something was wrong in her neighborhood. All along NW 36th Avenue in Hialeah, people were getting sick. In the past year alone, eight people had died of cancer, and a ninth was expected to pass any day. Asthma had become a major problem.
Shelton and her neighbors suspected what was to blame: the King Metal Recycling Plant. Not only has the plant coated the neighborhood in fumes and soot, but it's also run by two brothers once charged in a million-dollar fraud scheme and accused of botching work at the new Marlins Park.
Now the Miami-Dade County Commission has passed a resolution asking the state and county health department to investigate. "What they described sounded too scary to be a coincidence," Commissioner Barbara Jordan, the resolution's cosponsor, says.
There's good reason not to trust the plant's owners. Pedro and Jorge Amador (who didn't return repeated calls from Riptide) were charged in 2005 for directing a racketeering and money-laundering scheme that defrauded the state out of $1 million.
Investigators at the time said the brothers would pay off contacts in Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County with cash and plane tickets in exchange for contracts to repair drawbridges. Then they overcharged for products such as gearboxes and motors and pocketed the difference.
The Amadors walked away relatively unscathed. Jorge pleaded no contest to falsifying records in exchange for a year of probation. Pedro got ten years of probation after a guilty plea to a charge of fraud, and the two paid roughly $300,000 to the Florida Department of Transportation. (Their four co-conspirators weren't as lucky; one drew a sentence of nine months in prison.)
Two years ago, they opened King Metal. On June 10, 2010, the brothers were arrested after Miami-Dade detectives stopped by the plant and found that the business had no occupational license or proof of registration. Those charges were eventually dismissed.
Jorge Amador is also the owner of George's Welding in Medley, a contractor that cut corners, ignored specifications, and falsified records while building columns at Marlins Park, according to a CBS 4 report. Confronted about the claims, Amador reportedly threw a fit. But the welds on those columns failed stress tests, and he was ordered to redo the work.
Now the brothers should expect a visit from health inspectors looking into the latest allegations. "The owner doesn't care," Dinet McCoy, another resident, says. "He doesn't have regard for people's health."