North Miami

Miami-Dade audit: Affordable-housing developer falsified invoice, lacked permits in North Miami

An affordable-housing developer submitted a falsified invoice for reimbursement from the county, employed unlicensed contractors and failed to obtain construction permits to renovate a North Miami condominium, according to an audit by the Miami-Dade inspector general’s office.

In September 2011, the county approved $570,000 in public funding for developer Venice Park Gardens to rehab 36 of 60 units at Venice Park Condominiums. The developer had to submit reimbursement requests to obtain the money after the work had been performed.

The inspector general found that, on at least one occasion, Venice Park Gardens submitted an invoice for electrical work that the contractor, who was not licensed, said he did not do. Contractor Jesus Siso told investigators that the developer “instructed” him to change his invoices.

Eduardo Pozo, president of Venice Park Gardens, denied the accusation when the inspector general’s office presented him with a draft of the audit. Pozo provided investigators with an affidavit from building resident Helvert Garcia to corroborate that Siso had in fact worked in the building, home to low- and middle-income residents.

But the affidavit did not address the work in Garcia’s unit that was listed in the invoice. And when investigators interviewed Garcia in person, “he specifically stated that Mr. Siso had never done any work in his unit,” the audit says.

Pozo conceded to investigators that he did not obtain permits for some of the work and that he hired several other unlicensed contractors.

“We did contract various people who otherwise would not have been able to obtain work during this downturn in the construction industry in an attempt to assist them,” Pozo wrote in a letter to investigators. He could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

The inspector general’s office began investigating the developer after the county’s public housing and community development department noticed invoice discrepancies. Of 251 invoices listed as part of the rehab project, 71 required permits and inspections, the city of North Miami told investigators — but only one permit had been pulled before the developer learned of the probe.

The developer has since obtained some permits. North Miami is charging him a daily $50 fine — already at more than $12,000 — for failing to repair out-of-service elevators.

The audit recommends that the county determine whether Venice Park Gardens is in breach of its grant agreement and should be made ineligible for future funding, that no additional county funds be released until all North Miami permitting issues have been resolved, and that any work performed by the unlicensed Siso be rejected.

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