Miami-Dade County street-light supervisor charged with taking bribes

 

jweaver@miamiherald.com

A Miami-Dade County public works supervisor who oversaw the installation of more than 45,000 street lights is behind bars, after being accused of accepting thousands of dollars’ worth of household merchandise as bribes from a lighting-product vendor, authorities said Wednesday.

George Brown, 50, of Hollywood, had his first appearance in Fort Lauderdale federal court Wednesday on charges of taking bribes involving county programs that received federal funds, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday. He is scheduled for a bond hearing Thursday.

Brown, the county’s roadway lighting coordinator since late 2009, was arrested Tuesday. An FBI affidavit filed with the complaint said he allegedly received a bounty of appliances, electronics and other goods from the vendor-turned-FBI informant, who represented a Miami supplier that gave out “reward points” that could be redeemed for merchandise.

In exchange, Brown used “his influence” at public works to ensure the department purchased the supplier’s lighting products, according to the FBI affidavit.

The vendor, who began cooperating with both the Florida Office of Inspector General and the FBI last year, allegedly bribed Brown with computer equipment, a Rheem air conditioning unit, a Samsung stainless steel refrigerator, a KitchenAid convection oven and other household goods — some of which were shipped to the county supervisor’s home, according to the affidavit. At other times, Brown picked up the merchandise at the contractor’s company in Miami.

The total value of the merchandise, mostly paid for with the lighting contractor’s credit card, exceeded $13,000.

“Brown was concerned that there may be a ‘paper trail’ for the merchandise,” the FBI affidavit stated. But then he told the confidential informant that he used a different shipping address than the one the county’s public works department had listed for his residence. “Therefore, no one should be able to track the merchandise to him,” the affidavit said.

Brown, who earns $79,375 a year from the county, was hired in October 2002. He remains employed pending administrative action, said public works spokesman Frank Calderon. Calderon said the department wasn’t aware of the investigation until Wednesday.

County spokesman Fernando Figueredo said Miami-Dade had no information about the case. “Notwithstanding, we will not tolerate corruption from any county employee and support any action focused on eliminating it,” he said in a statement.

Brown started the alleged bribery scheme in summer 2011 when the unnamed Miami supplier offered him reward points from the manufacturer of the lighting products for the county’s streets. As the public works department purchased the products, the supplier advised him of the merchandise that he could buy with the points and bought the household goods for Brown.

In summer 2012, Brown became suspicious that law enforcement was on to them. He contacted the vendor to alert him that authorities were investigating allegations that the lighting company “was bribing Brown,” the affidavit said.

The Florida inspector general was, in fact, conducting the probe. By August, the supplier began cooperating with the FBI. At the bureau’s direction, he held a series of recorded meetings with Brown in which they discussed the selection of products, reward points and merchandise.

In one instance, the public works department hired a consultant to plan a street lighting project on 27th Avenue in Miami. Brown “instructed” the consultant to select light poles and fixtures from the vendor. Public works purchased more than $40,000 worth of the supplier’s products, and he told Brown he had between 2,500 and 3,000 points to reward him. He asked Brown to provide a list of merchandise.

The informant asked Brown, “Should we do this?”

Brown replied immediately, “Yes.”

In November, Brown and the informant discussed future projects together and the importance of keeping their “arrangement secret.”

“What precautions are you taking?” the informant asked Brown.

The public works employee responded: “My precaution is, the least they know, the better off we are,” adding that he would say he bought the household merchandise with his income-tax refund.

Then Brown assured the contractor: “There is absolutely no way they know what’s our exchange of information. They have no way of knowing.”

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