An unlicensed contractor on the troubled Lyric Theater restoration project has been arrested on fraud charges for collecting unemployment benefits while also receiving more than $600,000 from his construction work.
The contractor, 60-year-old Raul Campos, surrendered Tuesday night after meeting with Miami-Dade prosecutors and public corruption detectives investigating suspected misspending on the $10 million expansion and restoration of the 99-year-old Lyric Theater in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. The restoration project, suspended last year, is being managed by the Black Archives History and Research Foundation, and paid for with money from Miami-Dade County bonds.
Campos’ lawyer, Jeffrey Weiner, said investigators wanted Campos to provide information about the project’s construction manager, Ted Bachan, described as a “target” of the probe. While working together on the theater, Campos and Bachan, 47, were also business partners in a debt-ridden nightclub that lasted only a few weeks before closing in 2010, prosecutors say.
“Mr. Campos has been talking with the state,” Weiner said. “They apparently didn’t feel he was being entirely forthright.”
Investigators traced more than $900,000 from the Lyric Theater project to companies controlled by Campos; in many cases Campos cashed the checks at local check-cashing stores, the arrest report says. In all, about $600,000 was traced to Campos personally, the report says.
But during the same time, from August 2008 to July 2010, Campos also received unemployment benefits from the state, prosecutors say. To receive the benefits, Campos swore that he had not received wages or other money when he was receiving the unemployment payments, which totaled $29,075, the arrest report says.
The arrest report calls Campos a “convicted felon” who is not a licensed contractor in Florida. Campos has been arrested twice before on charges of working as an unlicensed contractor, court records show.
Weiner said Campos oversaw some of the other subcontractors on the Lyric Theater job, supervising roofing and drywall work. “According to everyone, the quality of the work was excellent,” he said.
Prosecutors and detectives have been investigating the finances of the Lyric Theater project for more than two years. In January 2011, prosecutors urged county officials and the Black Archives to suspend the restoration project because of suspicions that the fraud was ongoing. The Black Archives foundation has cooperated in the investigation, and the group is not suspected of any wrongdoing, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors initially said that Bachan, the project manager, was under investigation along with the general contractor and an architect, said Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the bond financing for the project.
Bachan’s lawyer, Michael Tein, said his client has done nothing wrong, and said prosecutors have refused to meet with him to discuss the case.
“Unfortunately, this is a case where law enforcement’s strategy is besmirch first, research later,” Tein said. “I have not seen one shred of evidence that Ted has done anything wrong.”
The Lyric Theater, at 819 N.W. Second Ave., is an Overtown landmark that once hosted jazz greats and anchored a once-thriving entertainment district in the black neighborhood of segregated Miami. In 2004, the county set aside $10 million in bond money to pay for an expanded stage, a new sound system and a new lobby.
Work on the project was about 75 percent complete when work was suspended last year, Spring said.
When work was halted, the general contractor, Contemporary Contractors & Engineering, filed a lawsuit against the Black Archives and put a lien on the property. This summer, prosecutors informed the county that CCE was no longer a target of the investigation.
The Black Archives and the general contractor are now negotiating to remove the lien and clear up any outstanding bills — and resume the restoration, Spring said. The remaining work should take about six months.
About $2.6 million of the $10 million budget remains, Spring said — enough, he believes, to cover any outstanding bills and the cost of completing the project.