Wackenhut: County About to Make Mass Transit More Dangerous

After four years of basically taking it lying down, Wackenhut -- the firm contracted to provide security for Miami-Dade Transit -- came out swinging this afternoon at a press conference at the InterContinental, announcing a $20 million lawsuit against the county, which has basically accused the Palm Beach Gardens company of being a bunch of sloppy liars and thieves. "Wackenhut says, 'Enough,'" thundered company chief Drew Levine, and by "enough," he meant enough with the charges that Wackenhut has falsely billed the county, oh, $3.4 million for security work on county mass transit systems. And why should you care? Because, according to Wackenhut, the county is about to make it more dangerous to ride mass transit. 

More after the jump.

The county maintains that the security firm -- South Florida's version of Blackwater -- failed to post guards at certain

posts and billed the county for it anyway. In an initial audit,

performed in 2008, an auditor estimated Wackenhut had billed the county

$6.26 million for work it didn't perform. That number was later revised

to $3.4 million.

The county wants that money back, and if it doesn't get it, and soon,

County Manager George Burgess says he'll terminate the county's 20-year

contract with the company. That contract, which pays Wackenhut an estimated $17 million a year, is set to expire in November.

Wackenhut counters that the county-hired auditor used "fatally flawed" methods to come up with the $3.4 million figure. At this afternoon's press conference, a former University of Florida statistics professor said the audit was "totally unreliable." Levine also denied any systematic overbilling.

If the county gives the security contract to a new firm, Levine says that could spell trouble for mass transit riders. Why? Because Wackenhut, according to Levine, has a more rigorous hiring process than competitors -- allowing only former military or law enforcement personnel to work as guards.

In the end, though, it all comes down to money. Besides the Metrorail contract, the county is also looking to end its relationship with Wackenhut at Miami-Dade Juvenile Services, a contract the company has held since 1998.

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Jesse Hyde