Natacha Seijas Takes Donation From Businessman Once Banned By Miami-Dade County

The top individual donor to the political action committee seeking to block Miami-Dade Commissioner Natacha Seijas' recall is a Hialeah businessman who was barred from getting county work. The campaign treasurer's report for Abre Los Brazos shows that Zitro Inc., a company owned by Hector P. Ortiz, contributed $10,000. In 2005, Ortiz, his son, and another Hialeah firm he owns called Horsepower Electric were hit with a two-year ban by County Manager George Burgess for his alleged role in a notorious scandal at Miami International Airport.

Ortiz's involvement was laid out in a 2001 federal bribery case against Richard Mendez, an ex-county official who once oversaw construction projects at MIA. Prosecutors claimed Ortiz gave Mendez money in exchange for steering contracts to him and his son, including a piece of a soil-cleaning contract worth $2 million even though their company had no experience removing polluted dirt.

Ortiz, who described the transactions as loans between friends, was never charged with a crime, but Mendez pled guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2005, Horsepower had locked up a no-bid 10-year contract worth an estimated $58 million to maintain and install safety devices on street lights throughout the county. But a letter from then-Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker to Burgess outlining the allegations against Ortiz triggered the disbarment proceedings and killed the deal.

Seijas and the Hialeah electrician go way back. In 1999, Ortiz hosted a fund-raiser for her at the Biltmore Hotel. That year, Horsepower executives, lawyers, employees and relatives of Ortiz contributed more than $10,000 to her reelection campaign.

Since the ban was lifted on December 31, 2006, Horsepower has been awarded $11.6 million worth of street light and traffic systems contracts by the county commission.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.