Nine years ago, Miami-Dade County awarded a no-bid contract to a group of politically connected businessmen to develop an office building on county-owned land at 2525 NW 62 Street, adjacent to the Martin Luther King Jr. Metrorail Station.
The development team was headed by the BAC Funding Corporation, a Miami-based non-profit organization that assists black enterprises and which owns the building. At the time, BAC’s partners included four individuals who have subsequently become targets in unrelated public corruption criminal probes.
They are builder Raul Masvidal, who is accused of grand theft and fraud for allegedly using county money to buy himself a $150,000 sculpture; entrepreneur Antonio Junior, who is facing three felony fraud counts for helping a construction firm do overpriced and phantom work at Miami International Airport’s jet fuel depot; affordable housing developer Otis Pitts, who is Masvidal’s partner in a separate development deal that charged the county $3.2 million in excessive management fees and costs unrelated to construction; and lobbyist Alben Duffie, president of the Miami-based Black Business Association, a company that double-billed the county and was reimbursed for questionable expenses totaling more than $230,000.
The group recieved tax-free financing for the building’s construction, completed in 2004. Under a 30-year lease, Miami-Dade pays BAC, which owns the building, $3.3 million a year to rent space for the administrative offices of three county departments.
Now County Manager George Burgess is asking county commissioners to spend $27.3 million in taxpayer money to buy the Liberty City building. According to a memo Burgess sent the 13-member body, which will consider the purchase at its regular monthly meeting today, the county will supposedly save $4 million by taking over the property rather than paying BAC rent.
The proposed sale already has one skeptic: Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. “This is one of those deals that gives me a funny feeling in my belly,” Gimenez told New Times. “I have a lot of questions.”
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Among Gimenez’s chief concerns: Who is getting the $27.3 million? In an e-mailed response to New Times, Assistant County Manager Roger Carlton, who negotiated the proposed buyout, says BAC is the only entity involved in the deal.
Carlton provided a July 17 letter from BAC chairman Ronald E. Frazier, a prominent architect who does business with the county, claiming Masvidal, Junior, Pitts and Duffie were paid off with construction funds and are not beneficiaries of the sale. “The total amount paid to the MLK joint venture for services rendered was $2,36,307.43,” Frazier wrote. “The last payment to the MLK joint venture was made on May 9, 2005.”
That may not be enough to sway Gimenez to vote yes to give BAC the $27.3 million for the building. The commissioner questioned why the county didn’t build the office space itself since staff is now claiming the county will save $4 million by purchasing it outright. “I want to know the entire history of this project and how we got here,” he said. “The developers are making a profit but taxpayers are paying the bill.” --Francisco Alvarado