On Tuesday, Faustin Denis, general manager of IMECO, Inc., got a $270,000 contract from North Miami despite an ongoing felony racketeering and fraud case against him over a bribery scandal in Opa-locka. It was his fourth contract from the city in just over a year despite questions over whether his firm is actually located in North Miami and a ban on getting federal contracts due to the racketeering case. Those concerns weren't enough to stop four of North Miami's five city councilmembers from approving the lucrative streetscaping contract for Denis, including North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre.According to the Miami Herald
, during Tuesday's council meeting and vote, Pierre said about Denis' arrest, "That's a non-issue."
But if that's not an issue, the question of how exactly Denis managed to gain such favor in North Miami should be. The businessman has made personal connections in high places, counting among his friends former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin, North Miami Department of Public Works chief Aleem Ghany, and Pierre. Ghany and Celestin even helped Denis land a massive $800,000 deal with a contractor to work on the Biscayne Landing deep injection well, according to North Miami City Councilman Scott Galvin.
Ghany did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment. Calls to IMECO, Inc., were not returned.
Galvin tells Riptide that, when going over IMECO's bid for the Pioneer Boulevard streetscaping contract, he contacted one of Denis' three references, a Colorado-based construction company called CH2M Hill. An employee at CH2M, Tom McSweeney, told Galvin that IMECO had just started work for them as a sub-contractor on a "pumping station" project for the Biscayne Landing. When Galvin asked McSweeney how he had come to hire IMECO, McSweeney replied that the company had been brought to him by two men: Aleem Ghany and Joe Celestin, the site manager appointed by North Miami.
Befriending public works directors seems to be Denis' way of bringing in the big bucks. In the Opa-locka bribery case, prosecutors allege that he secured $22 million dollars in contracts through a partnership with public works head Amir Shafi, who would rig the bidding process for Denis' company at the time, APAC Group.
Over at Voters Opinion, meanwhile, Stephanie Kienzle pointed out another connection between Ghany and Denis. One of Denis' three listed references was Nur-Ul Islam Academy in Cooper City, an independent Muslim school for whom IMECO did a $35,000 water line installation. Aleem Ghany's wife, Naima, has worked with Nur-Ul Islam, according to public records.
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Then there's Pierre, who is already facing allegations that he didn't pay for campaign advertisements on city bus benches. That same stunt sunk former North Miami Beach Mayor Myron Rosner, who was arrested in September. But if the threat of another scandal phased Pierre, he didn't show it at Tuesday's meeting. According to the Herald, Pierre openly admitted that he personally knew Faustin Denis and his brother, John, who owns IMECO.
Celestin was even less reserved in espousing his Denis connection. "Faustin Denis is a man I respect and a friend of mine," he told the Herald. "Until he's proven guilty, I will not judge."
Denis's racketeering and fraud trial is scheduled to start today alongside his two co-conspirators, former Opa-Locka City Councilman Terence Pinder and former lobbyist Dante Starks. Whether his alleged criminal activities will catch up to him in North Miami remains to be seen.