For more than a decade, Gus Lopez ran Miami Beach's procurement department, directing bids for multimillion projects. It's a vital job in a development hub like South Beach -- and a job rife with opportunities for collusion and corruption. Earlier this year, Lopez was investigated for allegedly giving in to that temptation by feeding a shady businessman inside info on a lucrative bid to redo the Beach's convention center.
This morning, police arrested Lopez and his wife, charging the ex-official with racketeering and bid tampering. It's just the latest in a stunning run of corruption cases in Miami Beach.
Update: Lopez was arrested after allegedly taking tens of thousands in payoffs from a consultant in exchange for inside info on city bids. The former city official even took $3,450 in cash on tape while bragging about being able to avoid police detection, prosecutors say.
- Miami Beach: Corruption Central
Lopez, who is 51, abruptly resigned from his post in April amid questions swirling over the convention center bids.
It's not clear exactly what case is behind Lopez's charges today; they'll be detailed at a press conference later this afternoon at the State Attorney's Office. Miami Beach Police spokesman Sgt. Bobby Hernandez tells Riptide that no arrest report will be available until after the conference.
Update: The charges filed today aren't directly related to the earlier investigation into the convention center bids, the Miami Herald reports.
Instead, they're tied to Lopez and a consultant also arrested today, Pierre Landrin; the consultant would feed inside info from Lopez to construction companies bidding on projects, then split payoffs with the city official, police say. Landrin flipped to help police and last month slipped Lopez a cash payoff while wired up.
Lopez's wife, meanwhile, helped launder the money from Landrin, prosecutors say.
The charges come after Lopez was under investigation earlier this year over his relationship with Walter Garcia, a businessman who spent time in federal prison thanks to a 1980s federal drug cartel bust called Operation Pisces.
Detectives found evidence that Garcia helped Lopez's wife, Maria Alejandra Pineda Escobar, get financing for a luxury Mercedes. At the same time, Lopez was actively helping Garcia get information on bidding to redo the convention center, according to police files.
Garcia has not yet been charged with any crimes.
Lopez and his wife were arrested at the Miami Beach condo this morning, the Miami Herald reports.
Lopez is charged with official misconduct, illegal compensation, racketeering and bid tampering.
His downfall is the latest in a corruption explosion at the Beach under former City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, who was forced out of office in May.
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Here's a quick rundown of the other recent scandals under his watch, via our story in May proclaiming Miami Beach the most corrupt town in Dade:
• His pick to head the troubled Building Department was canned after admitting to double-billing taxpayers for more than $154,000.
• His cops have been charged with harassing gays, shooting innocent bystanders, drunken joyriding that nearly killed a beachgoer, and drinking on the job.
• Prosecutors probed whether he extorted thousands of dollars in free tickets from the New World Symphony.
• His procurement director resigned over ties to a felonious developer and accusations of ethics breaches in a convention center renovation project.
• The FBI busted five of his code compliance officers and a firefighter for accepting bribes from clubs, and another firefighter for helping to arrange cocaine shipments.