An unusual bridge-repair contract in the city of Fort Lauderdale has sparked a criminal investigation — and those involved have ties to Miami-Dade County and Florida International University.
Miami-Dade’s new deputy director of water and sewer, Hardeep Anand, was public works director in Fort Lauderdale when the strange bridge contract was awarded. Anand acknowledged to the Miami Herald on Thursday that he’s hired a criminal defense attorney, but insisted he wasn’t connected to the bridge contract, which was awarded to his wife’s former business partner.
“I have no involvement in it,” Anand said of the contract. “The procurement department handles it.”
Also connected to the investigation is former FIU engineering dean Amir Mirmiran. It was a company run by Mirmiran’s wife that landed the city contract — even though it had just been incorporated, and had no track record.
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“I categorically and unequivocally deny having done anything wrong whatsoever,” Mirmiran said in an e-mail to the Herald. Mirmiran left his FIU job last year, and is now the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at Tyler.
I categorically and unequivocally deny having done anything wrong whatsoever.
Former FIU engineering dean Amir Mirmiran
In a segment aired earlier this week, Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman tracked down the former Fort Lauderdale employee at the center of the controversy, former Assistant City Engineer Pedram Zohrevand. Zohrevand denied steering a city contract to a company he had a relationship with.
“I didn't do that. I did all things the right way,” he told the TV station. Zohrevand, who left his $106,433 city job in October, could not be reached by the Herald.
An internal city of Fort Lauderdale investigation memo states that Zohrevand worked behind the scenes to make sure that a certain company — Engin-Ovation LLC — was hired by the city for “bridge engineering consulting services.” That was the company run by the FIU dean’s wife. The dean of the engineering school, Amir Mirmiran, earned $242,168 at FIU, and had previously supervised Zohrevand’s PhD dissertation.
According to the city memo, Zohrevand pushed for Engin-Ovation to be included on a list of three companies that could compete for the job of engineering work on the South Gordon Road and Laguna Terrace bridges. Zohrevand included Engin-Ovation on the list even though the company “had been in existence for only ten days and had no record of bridge repair projects,” according to the city’s investigation memo.
Three and a half months later, the city gave Engin-Ovation the green light to do the work.
But the irregularities continued, the city’s memo states. The bridge design plans that Engin-Ovation submitted were “virtually identical” to existing city plans for another bridge — plans that city staffers had drawn up themselves.
In the lead-up to Engin-Ovation submitting their plans, Zohrevand had obtained a copy of the city’s in-house plans for the other bridge. When the new plans arrived from Engin-Ovation, the city was suspicious enough that it sent the plans to its Information Technology department for computer analysis.
The IT analysis showed that both sets of plans — the city’s in-house plans and the plans from Engin-Ovation — were created at the exact same time, on the exact same day: 12:10 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2014.
The city memo states “Engin Ovation later sent the City an invoice for $17,670 even though it appears that its work consisted of copying plans created by the City.”
Engin Ovation later sent the City an invoice for $17,670 even though it appears that its work consisted of copying plans created by the City.
Fort Lauderdale city investigation memo
In the midst of all this happening, then-Public Works Director Anand recommended that Zohrevand be promoted to assistant director of the department, and get a 10 percent raise. Anand, who now earns $193,000 a year as deputy director for Miami-Dade water and sewer, said he didn’t know about the irregularities with Engin-Ovation when he pushed for Zohrevand to be promoted. Anand said the promotion was supported by other top city administrators, although it ended up not happening.
Anand’s relationship with Zohrevand went beyond simply being his boss.
In January of last year, Anand’s wife partnered with Zohrevand to create a company, SES4 LLC. Also partnering in that business: the wife of Amir Mirmiran, the former FIU dean.
The company was short-lived — it was dissolved a month later. Then the dean’s wife created Engin-Ovation, which landed the city bridge work.
The city’s investigative memo says what happened with the bridge contract could be criminal in nature, with possible charges including unlawful compensation (second-degree felony) or official misconduct (third-degree felony). The matter has been referred to the Broward State Attorney’s office.
But the city memo says Anand’s “role in this bridge repair contract is less clear. Mr. Anand also failed to disclose that he and/or his wife incorporated a business with his subordinate, Pedram Zohrevand, and with the owner(s) of Engin-Ovation. By incorporating a business, either directly or through his wife, with his subordinate, Mr. Anand demonstrated questionable judgement since such an arrangement can lead to a frequently recurring conflict of interest between their public roles and private interests.”
Anand told the Herald there was no conflict, as that company was disbanded before it did work for anyone. He also complained “the city has written that report without any input from me, I wasn’t interviewed for that process.”