Marlins Ready to Fight County Over Millions in Stadium Expenses

Three full seasons after moving into a ballpark financed by a deal many experts still consider the worst ever for local taxpayers, the Marlins are still haggling with Miami-Dade County over the final bill for their Little Havana boondoggle.

The latest report from county auditors says the Fish submitted millions of dollars in improper expenses for everything from legal fees to "tufted floor mats" and janitors' costs. The team is pushing back and plans to take the county to arbitration.

See also: Six Lies About the Marlins Stadium

For stadium opponents, the latest tussle is just another reminder of how badly Dade residents got screwed over by their baseball franchise and its compliant political friends.

"The documentation [owner Jeff] Loria showed the county to get the deal done was all bogus to begin with," Yvonne Bayona, a Little Havana activist, tells New Times. "So there's no reason to be surprised they're still trying to trick the county."

Norman Braman, the car magnate who lead the fight against the stadium, had an even simpler reaction to the audit: "Not surprised."

The Marlins Park deal -- which will eventually cost taxpayers $2.4 billion in interest payments -- requires the team to kick in $110.9 million to the county.

Auditors at county hall have been poring over the team's final report on how it fulfilled that requirement, and -- in an audit obtained by New Times last week -- they flagged 558 separate expenses totaling $4.2 million.

A county official declined to discuss in more detail why auditors flagged those expenses; some are likely accounting quirks, but many seem to fail the common-sense test of what counts as a stadium construction cost.

For instance, auditors disputed more than $200,000 the Marlins spent with Levy Restaurants, which provides food services at the ballpark. They also noticed $36,000 paid to Holland & Knight's attorneys and more than $90,000 to a hospitality consulting group.

Other entries are smaller but equally head-scratching, such as the $223.62 paid to Comcast Cable and the $6,099.90 AT&T bill. And what's up with $48,925 listed in payments to "Miami Marlins"?

The team declined to answer questions from New Times.

For Bayona, the nitty-gritty details are less important than the reality she and others predicted before the wallet-busting deal went through -- that the development and economic boosts promised for Little Havana have never materialized.

"There's nothing open around the stadium. It's empty," she says. "We live in one of the poorest cities in America. Yes, they're building new condos, but that's not for local people. The locals still don't even have enough money to go to Marlins games."

Here's the full audit, via the county:

Marlins Audit

(H/T Miami Today)

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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