The company that runs the hotel at Miami International Airport is under criminal investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorneys office and the Office of the Inspector General for allegedly fraudulently billing the county.
In a Jan. 2 memo outlining the joint investigation to Jose Abreu, director of the countys aviation department, Inspector General Christopher Mazzella wrote that he could provide only general contours of the ongoing probe because of potential, forthcoming criminal charges against the hotel operator, H.I. Development.
The unusual memo was prompted by an earlier letter from H.I. Development defending the companys performance after harsh public criticism from Abreu. The county is going out to bid for a new hotel management contract, and Abreu has said that he would not recommend H.I. Development if it were to bid.
Let me be clear that the criminal investigation under way, which is being conducted jointly by the OIG and the State Attorneys Office, is very serious, Mazzella wrote. Indeed, it is expected that criminal charges will be filed in the near future.
In his Dec. 12 letter, sent to Abreu and commissioners on a transportation committee, H.I. Development President Andre P. Callen addressed some of the complaints on a laundry list Abreu had aired against the company, including an allegation that five administrators were dismissed as a result of the billing probe. Callen wrote that the company had not dismissed anyone of its own accord, and added that no senior company personnel have been arrested or charged.
Five H.I. Development employees were escorted out of the airport, but only√ at the request of the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department and not√ at the request of law-enforcement personnel, he wrote.
It is our understanding that at least three of the five H.I. Development employees were cleared by the Countys Inspector General; nonetheless, the Aviation Department has refused to allow even those three employees to return.
The county pays H.I. Development a flat management fee and reimburses the operator for expenses. Mazzella did not delve into how the company may have defrauded the county, or what dollar amounts might be involved.
Callen, however, referenced three hotel renovation expenses probed by the inspector general or questioned by the aviation department: a wallpaper purchase, a bathtub refinishing project and a bathroom mirror replacement project.
The inspector general could not account for the wallpaper purchase, the letter says, but an inventory of the wallpaper exists. And while the aviation department considers that there were problems with the completion and billing of the bathtub and bathroom mirror projects, both were fully completed and properly billed, according to the letter.
Mazzella did not mention specifics, saying only that the investigation began after the aviation department notified the inspector general of possible billing fraud.
In investigating the allegation, the OIG discovered many issues and concerns with H.I. Developments overall management of the MIA Hotel, Mazzella wrote. The OIG also discovered issues with [the aviation departments] oversight of H.I. Developments compliance with the management agreement.