In Wackenhut scandal, even good guys like Mark Vieth have serious issues

One of the scummiest frauds in Miami-Dade history has been spiraling to a scandalous conclusion this month. In the past month, seven Wackenhut employees — including two high-level execs — have been arrested on criminal charges that they conspired to steal tens of thousands of dollars by faking guard shifts at Metrorail stations. More charges are likely.

But now it turns out even the central good guy in this case — Coral Gables attorney Mark Vieth, whose civil case helped expose Wackenhut's fraud — has run into serious trouble.

In March, the Florida Bar suspended Vieth for lying to several clients. The lawyer, reached at home, declined to comment.

Wackenhut, a firm founded in Miami in the '50s by ex-G-man George Wackenhut, in 1989 won a $2.3 million contract to guard Metrorail stations and grew the practice into a nearly $20 million-per-year, no-bid contract.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, Wackenhut began milking profits out of the deal with "ghost posts" — fake work sheets billing taxpayers for guards at stations that were in fact unprotected.

In 2005, Vieth represented Michelle Trimble, a former guard claiming she was fired for exposing the fraudulent time sheets. Eventually, he filed suit on behalf of three other guards with similar tales.

With thousands of pages of damning testimony, Vieth helped force the county commission and prosecutors into action. But he seems to have allowed the rest of his practice to fall to pieces.

In 2003, he was hired to represent a woman suing the Health Center of Stuart for allegedly injuring her mother. Vieth collected fees for four years and never filed a lawsuit.

Another client, an injured vet, won a $1.5 million judgment against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But Vieth didn't file paperwork to claim the award and then refused to return medical records to the man, the bar found.

Not that Vieth's problems mean Wackenhut didn't scam the hell out Miami-Dade taxpayers. In February, the company agreed to a $7.5 million civil settlement. Wackenhut can now try to bid anew on county deals.

The company sent Riptide this statement about the affair: "Wackenhut was and continues to be a responsible contractor. We have protected the citizens of Miami-Dade County for more than 50 years and will continue to do so with honesty and integrity."

That is, assuming criminal charges aren't filed against the company. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has refused to rule out that possibility, noting last month that "the investigation continues."

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink