At one time, 57-year-old civil engineer Richard Mendez was a very powerful man -- as Miami-Dade's assistant aviation director, he oversaw construction projects at one of the nation's busiest airports.
But in 2001, he resigned shortly before being indicted by the feds for steering multimillion-dollar contracts to three county vendors in exchange for bribes. His wife and two of the vendors were also criminally charged in the scandal.
In 2003, the Mendezes pleaded guilty. He acknowledged committing 34 counts of mail fraud, bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, and filing false tax returns. His wife Mirta agreed to one bribery charge.
Mendez got four years in prison, which he began serving onDecember 29, 2003. His spouse got five months in the slammer. The unhappy couple was ordered to pay back $1.9 million in restitution and fines.
Mendez was released in early 2007, and on February 26 he landed a job with A.D.A. Engineering Inc., a Doral-based firm that is vying for a $1.7 million drainage improvement contract at MIA.
According to Mendez's business card, he is a director for the company. He has his own direct line at the company's headquarters and an email address. Mendez did not respond to two messages, one left on his voicemail and the other sent electronically, requesting comment.
Current aviation director Joe Abreu says some time last year, he spoke with A.D.A. president Alberto Argudin about the decision to hire Mendez. "I let him know that it was a concern," Abreu says. "Alberto assured me that under no circumstance would Richard be working on any airport projects A.D.A. competed for." The airport chief says he has known both Mendez and Argudin since the '70s.
Abreu also admits Mendez came by his office, but he claims they did not discuss any airport-related work. "It was basically one of those 'Hi, how are you? How is everything? Nice to see you' meetings," Abreu attests, adding he subsequently ran into Mendez a few times at county hall in downtown Miami.
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According to the Miami-Dade online lobbyist registration database, Mendez is not registered to lobby on behalf of A.D.A.
Argudin, who is vigorously contesting the aviation department's recommendation to award the contract to a rival firm, says Mendez, along with other A.D.A. staffers, attended an August 28, 2008 informational meeting regarding the drainage deal.
"To the best of my knowledge," Argudin assures, "Mr. Mendez has had not other contact with county representatives regarding the MIA drainage master plan contract."
Argudin says he hired Mendez based on his professional qualifications and experience. "The company felt he had recognized his mistakes," Argudin asserts, "and had paid his debt to society."