If Miami-Dade prosecutors are to be believed, Faustin Denis is not the kind of guy you want hanging out around your city's contracts. He's been charged with racketeering and fraud after police say he cooked up an Opa-locka kickback scheme.
So why was North Miami practically shoveling money at Denis last week?
First, the city tried to give a firm where he works as general manager, IMECO Inc., a $99,000 deal to clean three blocks of sidewalk. That contract was killed, but they made up for it by awarding him a $270,000 deal for a streetscaping project that boosted his total work for the city to more than $1 million.
"I'm not looking to embarrass anyone, but I've got to ask how completely our staff vetted this," says Scott Galvin, the only city council member to vote against Denis's contracts.
Denis — who didn't return multiple calls from Riptide — was arrested in November 2009 along with former Opa-locka Commissioner Terence Pinder and former lobbyist Dante Starks. From 2004 to 2008, Denis's former company, APAC Group, received more than $22 million in contracts from the city for street and sidewalk maintenance.
But prosecutors allege Denis got his contracts through a bribery scheme concocted by Opa-locka's city manager and a consultant.
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Here's how it worked, police say: APAC would win contracts by submitting unreasonably low bids. Later, Denis would put in change orders to skyrocket prices by up to 200 percent. That extra money allegedly went into the pockets of Denis and the other members of the ring.
So how did Denis win the trust of North Miami amid those allegations? Well, it didn't hurt that oft-investigated Mayor Andre Pierre publicly supported the bid — even reading about Denis's criminal charges from the city council podium and saying, "that's a nonissue."
Pierre also admitted to personally knowing Denis, who in addition to his streetscaping deal also has an $800,000 subcontract on a project at Biscayne Landing.
Former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin was even less reserved in boosting the suspect: "Faustin Denis is a man I respect and a friend of mine," he told the Miami Herald. "Until he's proven guilty, I will not judge."