A disgraced former Miami-Dade County commissioner and a Hialeah businessman once banned from getting county contracts are making big bucks off the red-light camera blitzkrieg in South Florida. Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which has installed red-light cameras in 22 cities in Miami-Dade and nearly 80 cities across the state, employs Larry Hawkins as a lobbyist and uses Hector Ortiz as a subcontractor.
You might recall that Hawkins, when he was a county commissioner, was the target of several sexual harassment complaints. In one case, the Florida ethics commission fined him for subjecting female staffers "to repeated and continuous lewd" behavior. In another incident, a woman testified that Hawkins grabbed her breasts, kissed her, and exposed himself to her in a Chicago hotel room in 1989.
After telling New Times columnist Jim DeFede in 1994 that he had never flashed or come on to one of his accusers because he had found her "to be fairly unattractive," he was removed from office by voters. Now he is back at county hall lobbying for ATS, which plans to bid on a contract to put red-light cameras at intersections in unincorporated Miami-Dade.
He joins a lobbying corps that includes state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Tallahassee powerhouse Ronald Book, and the county mayor's son Carlos Gimenez Jr. (who has lobbied in the City of Miami).
Then there's Ortiz's company Horsepower Electric, which has installed red-light cameras at 19 intersections in Miami. Horsepower is ATS's exclusive subcontractor in Florida, says ATS spokesman Charles Territo.
In 2005, Ortiz and Horsepower were banned from obtaining county work for two years as a result of Ortiz's involvement in a 2001 federal bribery case against Richard Mendez, a bureaucrat who oversaw construction projects at Miami-Dade airports. Prosecutors claimed Ortiz gave Mendez money to steer contracts to him and his son. Ortiz, who was never charged with a crime, insisted he was only providing loans to a friend.
After the ban was lifted, the county commission awarded $11.6 million in streetlight and traffic systems to Horsepower.
Territo declined to comment about the troubled history of Hawkins and Ortiz, but says ATS "has a strong team in South Florida that shares [the company's] commitment to road safety."