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Former Beach official, wife arrested in corruption probe

Even though he knew he was under criminal investigation, former Miami Beach procurement director Gus Lopez boasted to a pal that detectives would never link cash deposits to illegal kickbacks.

“When they pull my bank records . . . they’re not going to be able to draw the line from A to B,” Lopez told his friend and business partner, Pierre Landrin Jr.

But Lopez didn’t know that Landrin was working with Miami Beach detectives — and that his SUV was outfitted with police video and audio recorders.

Cops watched last month as Landrin slipped Lopez an envelope containing $3,450 in cash, supposedly from a construction company that Lopez, 52, secretly helped to get a city contract.

“Well, so sorry, so wrong. We have connected those dots,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said Monday.

Undercover video and court documents released Monday showed how Lopez and Landrin peddled sensitive information for years to companies looking to unfairly land city contracts. Landrin, 47, would split the money with Lopez, who often provided information on competing bids, according to prosecutors.

Police arrested Lopez and Landrin, delivering another black eye to a city beset by recent corruption scandals.

Lopez and Landrin were slapped with charges including racketeering, bid-tampering and illegal compensation. Investigators say they earned up to $600,000 from at least 12 companies that did business with the city.

Lopez’s wife, Maria Alejandra Pineda, 33, a would-be model, also was charged with money-laundering for allegedly helping her husband hide the cash. From one businessman, Lopez also demanded and received a $5,000 “consultant” fee for his wife, police said.

Their lawyers say they are innocent.

“It is our position that this prosecution is very politically motivated and ignores the actions of many others in Miami Beach City Hall,” said Lopez’s attorney, Carlos Fleites. “As always, Gus maintains his innocence, and we have every intention to aggressively defend all charges against him.”

Miami Beach detectives and public-corruption prosecutors began looking at Lopez in March, after he resigned amid possible misconduct surrounding the massive Miami Beach Convention Center district redevelopment project. Lopez was in charge of overseeing bids for the deal.

The city became concerned that he was possibly rigging the process by assembling his own development team with businessman Walter Garcia.

Investigators found that Lopez was actively referring prospective bidders and team members to Garcia, even asking one investment banker to call “Walter” on his cellphone. Detectives also uncovered an email, sent from Lopez’s personal account, that even outlined “Walters Full Compensation” as $6.73 million.

Then-City Manager Jorge Gonzalez alerted prosecutors to the allegations.

According to court documents, Garcia also helped Lopez’s wife obtain financing for a Mercedes-Benz. As the project was being put out for bid, Garcia also elicited $25,000 from one company bidding on the project.

Garcia has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Monday’s arrests did not relate to the Convention Center portion of the investigation, which prosecutors say is continuing.

The arrests stem from financial records subpoenaed by investigators. They noticed odd amounts of cash being deposited into Lopez’s accounts.

Lopez, whom the city paid by direct deposit, was not authorized to work outside Miami Beach. And his wife had no steady income, records showed.

Armed with financial records and a flood of email traffic between Lopez and his friend, prosecutors approached Landrin, who explained the scheme and agreed to cooperate.

Landrin, a Miami-Dade public schools employee, created a “consulting” company called Almani Marketing in 2005. Lopez, as a silent partner, got 50 percent of all the money paid by companies, police said.

The kickbacks were related to work solicited under the city’s “Job Order Contracting” program, a less-formal bidding process created to quickly secure contracts for small or medium-size projects.

An example: In 2009, Lopez leaked to Landrin how much competitors were bidding on a project to refurbish city restrooms at 35th Street. Armed with that information, Harbour Construction bid far less — and got the contract, according to a warrant prepared by detective Ricardo Arias and prosecutor Tim VanderGiesen.

Landrin got $12,000 for the deal, half of which he delivered to Lopez, according to the warrant.

The investigation culminated on Sept. 14, when Landrin met with Lopez at Soyka restaurant in Miami to deliver cash for past work, investigators say. Lopez drove away after the delivery. Miami Beach detectives stopped him and seized the $3,450.

Company operators will now be witnesses, the state said. While Landrin was also charged, he presumably will get a break on a future plea deal and sentence.

Miami Herald Staff Writer David Smiley contributed to this report.