One of the largest builders in South Florida, Pino owns a waterfront home, a 54-foot yacht and has a net worth of at least $19 million.
Yet in 1995 he was cut into the airport's duty-free shops, which pull in nearly $60 million a year, to meet airport rules requiring firms to hire minority partners. In the eyes of Miami-Dade County, Pino qualified as a "disadvantaged businessman."
With his business interests now pulling in more than $32 million a year, Pino no longer qualifies as a minority entrepreneur but he's kept his place in the duty-free deal: the county decided he could stay in under a grandfather clause.
Pino readily acknowledges his political ties, but said his team won because it offered the best return. His inclusion as a disadvantaged businessman? "I didn't make the rules, " he said. "I played by the law. .... To me, it was a business opportunity."
Lobbyist Jorge de Cardenas, a political consultant who has worked on the campaigns of at least seven commissioners over two decades, was cut into the same deal for no other reason than to ensure votes at County Hall.
"We are lobbyists. In consideration for that, I think we receive a percentage of their revenues, " the lobbyist's son, Luis, said in a sworn statement to the county explaining his father's 4 percent stake. De Cardenas' firm received $67,000 in duty-free fees over three years. He transferred ownership in the contract to his son after serving time in a Kentucky federal prison for his role in a Miami bribery scheme.
Much of the time, the politically connected players are brought in using programs intended to boost struggling minority businesses.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires that 10 percent of non-construction concessions be awarded to minorities, and Miami-Dade ordinances require that sometimes 20 or 30 percent of contracts be given to disadvantaged blacks, Hispanics and women.
"These programs were meant to assist and develop minority businesses so they can compete in the marketplace without a set-aside program, " said Lenneal Henderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore who has worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration on minority business concerns.
He decried any program when a minority gets "rented" to help a company win a contract. "Any program that doesn't provide a real opportunity, that's just favoritism."
The intent of the programs has been perverted at MIA, where the politically connected sometimes do little more for their money than get votes for the project. The FBI is suspicious. Investigators recently tried to persuade an airport businessman to secretly record a shakedown attempt - one of many that agents believe may be going on at MIA.
Ex-commissioner Kaplan: "Everybody is afraid of being called a racist, and so they don't raise objections, but so much business is done under minority empowerment, and it's often . . . pork barrel, rather than legitimate businesses. Amazingly, you see the same names over and over again - all politically connected, and surprisingly multi-talented."
A national chain won its airport contract after taking in minority partners with political ties.
A case study is the airport's $29 million-plus restaurant contract held by Host-Marriott. The national chain won the Miami deal after partnering with several politically connected minorities.
William Perry III, a political player close to Mayor Penelas and several commissioners, gets a percentage of the Host-Marriott contract and of the airport's parking management contract.