George Brown believed he had established a full-proof racket to cash in on his $79,375-a-year gig as roadway lighting coordinator for the Miami-Dade Public Works Department. Instead, he got caught in an undercover sting that featured wiretapped phone calls, G-men, and a stool pigeon.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged the 50-year-old Hollywood resident with accepting bribes in connection with programs receiving federal funds.
Between 2011 and 2012, an unnamed county vendor cooperating with the FBI paid off Brown with approximately $13,000 worth of fancy appliances. In exchange, Brown made sure Miami-Dade taxpayers bought the corrupt contractor's lighting products. Brown's duties included overseeing the installation and maintenance of 45,000 streetlights on county roads.
According to the probable cause affidavit, the snitch is the owner of several companies that sell products to the traffic system, sign, and lighting industries. The vendor has been selling lighting products to Miami-Dade since the mid-'90s. The complaint identifies the vendor only as a confidential informant.
In 2011, the CI made Brown an offer: He'd give the public works employees reward points worth a dollar each to ensure the department bought his products. The CI explained that Brown could cash in the rewards for merchandise.
To facilitate the scheme, Brown would use his influence over the selection of products for county projects to ensure the CI's lighting products were purchased by public works, according to the affidavit. For example, roadway consultants had to coordinate with Brown in the creation of plans. He would instruct the consultants to select lighting products sold by the CI for the project. If the consultant disagreed or chose an alternative product, Brown would challenge the consultant's choice and again encourage the selection of the CI's products.
The feds allege Brown coordinated with the CI, over the telephone and in-person, to develop a plan of action to effectively challenge the consultant's product selection.
In July 2011, Brown began cashing in rewards. The CI bought him a computer graphics card, other computer peripheral equipment, and electronics costing $1,455.48. Four months later, the snitch covered the $2,470 bill to install a 2.5-ton Rheem air-conditioning unit at Brown's Hollywood home. In November of that year, the CI gave Brown a $2,347.98 Samsung stainless-steel refrigerator and had it shipped to his house.
By July 2012, Brown learned that the Florida Office of the Inspector General and the FBI were investigating his dirty relationship with the vendor, who by then was cooperating with law enforcement authorities. The CI began wearing a wire during phone calls and face-to-face meetings with Brown.
For instance, Brown met the CI at the vendor's Miami office on August 3, 2012. The public-works lighting supervisor didn't know his alleged cohort was miked for sound. Brown explained to the CI that the inespector general's probe began when a competitor complained about their quid pro quo arrangement. The CI asked Brown who else knew about the merchandise he had recieved. "Nobody knows," Brown allegedly said. He also told the snitch not to worry because his employer, Miami-Dade, had a different address on file than his Hollywood residence, so there was no way to track the merchandise back to him.
Shortly after, Brown made sure the department purchased $40,000 worth of lighting products from the CI for a road project along NW 27th Avenue. On September 19, 2012, Brown met with the CI, who was recording their conversation. Brown wanted more points to cash in. He told the snitch what to buy.
In November and December 2012, merchandise costing $4,238.32, including a KitchenAid electric convection oven, was shipped to Brown's residence. According to the affidavit, the goods were paid using the CI's credit card.
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County officials told the Miami Herald" target="_blank">Miami Herald that Brown wasn't aware of the investigation until Wednesday and that he remains employed pending administrative action.
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.