Private parking lot operators in Miami are a lot like telemarketers and loan sharks: No matter how good of a job they do, it's still hard to like them. In a city where urban sprawl and stripped-back public transportation have effectively forced car ownership upon millions of residents, paying an arm and a leg for a parking spot will always feel like a racket — not to mention the risk of running into one of the area's overzealous tow truck operators.
So it suffices to say private-parking operator Andrew Mirmelli hasn't had many good run-ins with the local media. In 2013, his lots in South Beach drew outrage for misleading signs and apparently malfunctioning machines that led to a lucrative towing spree by a company associated with Mirmelli's mother. Now one of Mirmelli's many parking companies, M&M Parking, has come under scrutiny for several lots it operates in the city of Miami.
A private audit of 19 M&M Parking properties found the company failed to report $883,192 in revenue for four of those lots from June 2018 to July 2019. The audit was conducted by Complete Consulting Services Group (CCSG), a firm hired by the city to ensure parking operators are paying the city's 15 percent parking surcharge tax. Auditors found Mirmelli's company owed the city more than $135,000 in taxes and $20,000 in interest and fines.
The four lots in question are located in busy areas in or near downtown. According to the audit, which New Times obtained through a public records request, M&M Parking reported payments collected by pay-and-display machines while hiding revenue collected from tickets manually handed out by lot attendants. Revenue from these parking tickets, as well as monthly parking passes, were kept off the books, auditors say.
CCSG began visiting the four properties in May to count the number of cars with pay-and-display tickets, monthly passes, and parking tickets handed out by parking lot attendants. That month, the auditor estimated M&M Parking brought in a total of $23,740 in revenue, failing to report $14,540 in earnings from monthly passes and tickets from lot attendants. To estimate the amount of unreported revenue for the remaining 11 months covered in the audit, CCSG used 80 percent of that $14,540 figure to account for seasonal fluctuations. According to the audit report, M&M Parking was aware it was being audited but continued those practices for several months.
M&M Parking has appealed the audit and is contesting the amount auditors believe is due. In an email to CSSG, an attorney representing M&M Parking accused the auditors of "failing to understand and take into consideration M&M Parking's ticketing system."
"I'm very aggravated by the whole situation. It's definitely not what it appears," Mirmelli tells New Times. "These so-called audits are not audits at all. They didn't look at my books. They took pictures and extrapolated; they ignored the bank statements that I submitted. It's guilty until proven innocent."
CCSG president Franklin Laso says Mirmelli's bank statements were considered by the auditors and found to be of little use in clarifying M&M Parking's revenue streams.
"Bank statements are irrelevant. If you are collecting cash, as attendants on these lots were, you can choose not to deposit that money in the bank. They're essentially asking us to just take their word for it," Laso says.
According to Mirmelli, the heightened scrutiny of his company's operations is no mere coincidence. He says he was one of several parking lot operators last year who helped launch People for Fair Parking Fees, a nonprofit whose aim is to lower the parking surcharge tax. Mirmelli says the surcharge tax is "onerous" and can be the difference between making a profit or losing money on a parking lot.
"I help start People for Fair Parking Fees and, suddenly, for the first time in more than 15 years, they allege I'm underpaying. It's a total witch hunt," Mirmelli says.
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According to the audit report, which included field historical field audit findings, M&M has underpaid the surcharge tax nearly every single year going back to 2011.
In a 2017 interview with the Miami Herald , Laso said CCSG collected $22.6 million in surcharges for the City of Miami in 2016. For comparison, San Francisco collected $95 million, Los Angeles $107 million, and Chicago $126 million, according to Laso.
Under the city's surcharge tax ordinance, a lien for monies owed could be placed on any parking facility that submits a false or fraudulent return. Misreporting could also force a business to cease operations for 30 days or even to install mandated parking-revenue control equipment, which counts every vehicle that enters and exits the facility. The city is "authorized to seek injunctive or other equitable relief to enforce compliance."
"The majority of parking lot operators in the city pay their share," Laso says of his auditing experience in Miami. "It's not fair that a few bad apples get away with underpaying."