In October 2009, prosecutors charged George Munne, the owner of local construction firm American Earth Movers (AEM), with felony organized fraud. His crime: Paying kickbacks to a minority contractor who never did any work, all so his firm could meet county standards on a big-money project in Virginia Key.
Fast-forward to this past February 9, when Miami City Manager Tony Crapp Jr. awarded a $178,993 contract to improve a canal near Kennedy Park to none other than AEM -- all while Munne's felony charges are still technically open. Should the city be awarding six-figure contracts to firms whose owners face fraud charges?
Sure, says Ken Robertson, the city's director of purchasing: "There was, and is, no reason for the city not to conduct business with American Earth Movers."
The reason: Munne has agreed to a pretrial diversion program that will erase the charges if he keeps his nose clean and performs community service until May or so. "The taxpayers' interest is in awarding the job to the lowest bid," says Ira Loewy, Munne's attorney.
Munne was arrested in '09 after prosecutors learned that a subcontractor, Pabon Engineering, had submitted more than $300,000 of invoices on a Virginia Key project without doing any work.
They say Munne agreed to pay Pabon a kickback to file false paperwork so he could fulfill a county requirement that 19 percent of the project's cost go to minority contractors.
"People aren't doing their jobs, or people who are in charge of those people don't care. Either way, it's bad," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told the Miami Herald at the time.
This past December, Munne submitted a bid to the City of Miami for the canal project. The bid form includes a question about whether his firm "is currently under investigation by any law enforcement agency." Munne's answer: N/A.
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But Munne had no intent to mislead the city, Loewy says. In fact, he included a copy of his diversion agreement, which stipulates that if he carries out a six-figure restoration project in Oleta State Park for free as community service, the felony charges will be dropped later this year.
That was good enough for city officials, Robertson says. And it should be good enough for taxpayers, Loewy adds.
"This was a very fair resolution to his criminal charges," he says. "Anyone complaining about him getting the canal project at this point is probably a higher bidder just looking to make more money off the city."