Braman BMW Sued for Fraud, Forgery, and Wrongful Firings

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, Braman recalled Alvarez's ass. 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 wrongful termination of employees who complained.

Norman 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. Oftentimes, 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.

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 to maintain a lucrative customer-service rating with BMW, Gonzalez says.

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.

"Braman always projects an image that he cares for the people of Miami-Dade," Gonzalez says. "But look at the way he treats his employees."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.

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