Miami Beach’s billion-dollar convention center district project is not tainted and is no longer the focus of a high-profile corruption probe, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has told city officials.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo wrote in an email Wednesday morning that an investigation prompted by concerns that the city’s then-purchasing director was rigging the bidding on a 52-acre convention center redevelopment has not uncovered wrongdoing involving the massive project.
“We have not come across anything in our investigation at this time that rises to the level of criminal conduct in any transactions we have reviewed,” Arrojo wrote.
The investigation, however, is continuing.
Detectives and prosecutors began looking at longtime Beach Purchasing Director Gus Lopez in late March after his bosses discovered emails that, they believed, showed that instead of impartially overseeing the bidding, he was improperly influencing the process.
Many of the emails involved ex-con Walter Garcia, who was trying to put together a development team to bid on the convention center project, in which his company, Peninsula Development, would serve as a consultant.
Witnesses, including an investment banker and developer bidding on the project, have said Lopez and Garcia sought financing together and that Garcia claimed to have access to City Hall insiders.
Lopez and Garcia have denied wrongdoing. And Arrojo wrote Wednesday that “you should know the Convention Center project is not the focus of our inquiry.”
A parallel project to have developers lease and redevelop public parking lots along Lincoln Road is similarly untainted, City Attorney Jose Smith said he was told.
Still, both projects have a way to go before ground is broken.
Smith read Arrojo’s email into the record during a Wednesday afternoon City Commission finance committee meeting called to discuss possible Sunshine Law violations by evaluation committees that reviewed bids for both the convention center and Lincoln Lane projects. Concerns about the evaluation process, specifically that the entire process was closed to the public when portions should have been open, were raised by a losing Lincoln Lane bidder.
In order to avoid potential litigation, commissioners agreed that a new evaluation committee should view an hours-long presentation video taken from the previous Lincoln Lane evaluation committee meeting, with the opening and ending portions open to the public.
In the case of the convention center, commissioners agreed that the old evaluation committee should reconvene and similarly review video of the previous presentations, with bidders on hand to answer any questions.
It remains unclear when — or whether — either project will be put to a vote.