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.
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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.