Ever parked in a Miami-Dade County-run parking garage? You'd be hard-pressed to find a customer who'd call the county's parking hubs models of efficient business. But a new report from the Miami-Dade Inspector General suggests the department's problems are far worse than anyone had guessed.
Deposits went missing, checks and cash were strewn in drawers around the office, and thousands of dollars were allegedly snatched by employees with sticky fingers, inspectors revealed in a report released late Wednesday. One employee — 24-year-old Jose Valladares — was arrested on charges of stealing upward of $5,000 from the coffers, and several other workers were suspended pending further investigation.
"[Inspectors], upon receiving a complaint from a garage patron that his check for monthly parking had not been cashed for three months, conducted an initial review of the Parking Management Office and found it in complete disarray," Mary T. Cagle, the county's inspector general, writes in the report.
The investigation stemmed from that complaint as well as a broader countywide concern that reportedly began when parking garages switched to automated pay systems last year. Suddenly, revenue boomed — leaving administrators scratching their heads about where all the missing cash had gone when employees were in charge of taking garage payments.
When the Inspector General's office began looking into the problem, they found a department with a ramshackle accounting system and few checks and balances on low-level employees handling cash. "Significant sums of money were missing," Cagle writes.
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Valladares was the first alleged thief fingered by the inspectors. The young employee's job was to take payments for monthly parking spots, recording the cash received, and then sending that money to a general account. Instead, he's accused of pocketing thousands of dollars' worth of payments.
When investigators confronted him, he allegedly admitted to taking the cash and handed over receipts for missing cash totaling $6,088; later, inspectors found about $1,300 at Valladares' home.
Valladares is charged with felony grand theft in the scheme, but he's not likely to be the only parking employee facing criminal charges. Investigators caution that "the amount of money that Valladares admitted to taking is just a fraction of the amount of money unaccounted for."