Norman Braman likes to think of himself as a man of the people. The billionaire famously sued the county and the Marlins in 2008 on behalf of taxpayers pissed off over the disastrous stadium deal. When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez raised property taxes two years later, it didn't put a dent in Braman's own bank account but he recalled Alvarez's ass anyway. Most recently, Braman has been battling Dolphins owner Stephen Ross over his request for nearly $300 million from county coffers. "This deal... is the same rip-off that the Marlins gave us only a few years ago," Braman said. "This is welfare for a multibillionaire."
But Braman's own business dealings aren't squeaky-clean either, if allegations from two of his ex-employees are to be believed. Three months after New Times first reported a lawsuit against Braman BMW for allegedly bilking customers, another former employee is leveling more serious charges against the auto dealership, including $10 million fraud, forgery, and wrongfully firing employees who complained.
Braman declined to comment on the accusations. In a prior interview, however, he denied that his dealership had defrauded customers or car manufacturers and instead blamed "disgruntled employees."
Juan Carlos Gonzalez worked as a manager at Braman BMW on Biscayne Boulevard for more than eight years. The son of a member of the 2506 Brigade that landed at the Bay of Pigs, Gonzalez says he was fired last July after complaining about financial shenanigans.
Like Ulises Ruiz, who was fired from Braman BMW in March 2012 and drafted a suit last October (he was forced to enter arbitration and settle out of court), Gonzalez says it was company policy to order unnecessary auto repairs. Often, he says, supposedly broken parts weren't replaced, and if a car was under warranty, BMW would pick up the tab. If not, the customer got screwed. Gonzalez says Braman BMW employees even faked customer signatures.
"I've been witness to a systematic and deliberate process of forged customer signatures," he says.
When BMW auditors would visit every couple of years, Braman managers used a secret room to doctor the repair orders, Gonzalez says. "Instead of pulling those repair orders... they were taken to the secret room and checked for omissions." Suspicious documents would have cost Braman up to $300,000 in fines, Gonzalez says. "What happened when BMW finally got the documents? They were perfect."
Braman BMW employees also deleted complaints from the computer system and even paid customers for positive reviews, Gonzalez says, to maintain a lucrative customer-service rating with BMW.
Gonzalez's lawsuit claims he was the victim of discrimination because of his age (54) and Cuban origins.
And when he filed suit in February, his former bosses whipped out an arbitration agreement with his name on it. The only problem, Gonzalez says, is that his signature was forged -- just like on the repair orders.
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In addition to his lawsuit, Gonzalez says he plans to talk to state and federal authorities. "The community needs to know about all this fraud," he says. "There is a lot of evidence. I'm just going to tell them were to look."
Gonzalez and Ruiz both say BMW is conducting its own investigation of the auto dealership. However, the car company declined to comment to Riptide.
"Braman always projects an image that he cares for the people of Miami-Dade, but look at the way he treats his employees," Gonzalez says. "He loves to go the courthouse and sue everybody, but he denies his employees that same right."