North Miami Gives Racketeering Suspect's Company $270K For Landscaping Contract

Apparently, it takes more than felony charges to dissuade the North Miami City Council from giving your company a six-digit payout. On October 9, by a vote of 4-1, council members in North Miami awarded a $270,000 contract to IMECO, Inc., for a streetscaping project at Pioneer Boulevard. That winning bid came in the wake of a much-maligned proposal to pay IMECO  $99,000 to clean all of three blocks of sidewalk and amidst controversy over the company's general manager, Faustin Denis. He's currently on trial for racketeering and fraud stemming from a November 2009 arrest.

According to Councilman Scott Galvin, the lone dissenting vote, John Denis, the owner of IMECO and Faustin's brother, was present at the council meeting. "He forcefully defended his brother and the company, and told us not to cast aspersions," Galvin tells Riptide. But given Faustin Denis' track record when it comes to public works, maybe the caution is warranted.

According to court records, from 2004 to 2008, Denis, through his company, APAC Group, received over $22 million in contracts from the city of Opa-Locka to do street and sidewalk repairs and maintenance. But the State Attorney's Office alleges that APAC got its contracts through a bribery and money laundering scheme concocted by Opa-Locka's city manager and a city engineering consultant, who then demanded kickbacks from Denis in exchange for the deals.

"Mr. Denis was unlawfully compensated in Opa-Locka construction projects through his business, by securing contracts through low bids and subsequent fraudulent charge orders," the complaint says.

The system prosecutors say Denis and Opa-Locka Department of Public Works head Amir Shafi was simple. APAC would win contracts from the city because it would put in unreasonably low bids that didn't accurately reflect prices, court records show. The company was also given several no-bid contracts by Shafi. Then, after the job was begun, Denis would put in change orders to skyrocket prices anywhere from 150 to 200 percent. That extra money allegedly went into the pockets of Denis, Shafi and the other members of the fraud ring.

Investigators found that, in September 2004, APAC Group won a $2.3 million contract from the Opa-Locka Department of Public Works to install drainage systems on roads in the city. In January 2005, a companion project worth $3.2 million was added to the deal by Shafi. But in February, the records state, Denis was summoned by Shafi and city engineering consultant Emmanuel Nwadike, who asked him for $20,000 each as a kickback from the project funds. When Denis protested that he didn't have that cash on hand, Shafi allegedly told him to make the illegal payments through one of APAC's sub-contractors, Hard J Construction.

Through Hard J, Denis paid Shafi and Nwadike two separate payments of $20,000 and $19,000 in April 2005. He also made a payment of $5,000 to then-Opa-Locka City Councilman Terence Pinder, who was in on the scheme as well.

For four years, Denis raked in cash and contracts through Shafi's rigged system. But in 2009, it all fell apart, and Denis was arrested, along with Nwadike, Shafi, Pinder, and Dante Starks, a former Miami-Dade cop who Denis had hired as a consultant and lobbyist.

Nwadike pled guilty in 2011 to several charges of money laundering and unlawful compensation. Denis has maintained his innocence, and through his new company, IMECO, has re-entered the world of public works.

As Stephanie Kienzle at Voters Opinion points out, Denis isn't allowed to apply for federal government jobs. But with the members of the North Miami City Council giving him nearly $300,000 despite his criminal ties, Denis probably doesn't need any extra money from Washington.

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