Two Miami-Dade based companies are being accused of helping sell fake highway dividers that a state contractor installed along portions of I-95 — and for which taxpayers footed the bill — ongoing lawsuits allege. Counterfeiting the dividers, which distinguish the express lanes on I-95 from regular traffic, would have meant “substantially inferior [and] unsafe” poles were installed on one of the most-used highways in the state, according to one of the suits.
The lawsuits, which were first reported by Politico Florida, allege that DBi Services, a Pennsylvania-based firm with hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts, was responsible for keeping up the highway dividers along I-95 with new state-approved poles as part of a seven-year contract with Florida’s Department of Transportation. But a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a company that manufactures the state-approved poles accuses DBi of using fake dividers instead, violating the contract worth tens of millions of dollars.
That company, a Fort-Myers based business called Flexstake, originally supplied DBi with authentic dividers, according to a second suit filed in federal court by a supplier named Orafol. But DBi began tapering off its orders of replacement poles from Flexstake even as it was still replacing highway dividers for the state, according to Orafol’s lawyers.
Orafol alleges DBi started cutting corners and buying materials from another business in Miami-Dade that had counterfeit poles mimicking the real ones, including Orafol’s own, state-approved reflective material.
Proof of that, according to the Orafol suit, includes a July 2016 state report that found that newer posts installed by DBi were failing at higher rates than those installed previously. The report’s conclusions “suggested ... that DBi had been using different, non-FlexStake posts of an inferior quality and durability,” the lawsuit said, and prompted FlexStake to examine the newer poles and confirm they had been made by someone else.
The poles had patterns similar to the Flexstake and Orafol ones at first glance but were made of different materials, suggesting “DBi provided a sample post or posts and commissioned the process of producing lower-cost posts and sheeting,” the lawsuit said.
Last September, U.S. Marshals seized several of the fake dividers at one of DBi’s facilities, which it had purchased from a Miami-based comapny called Safety System Barricades Company, according to the suit. SSBC, in turn, had commissioned 10,000 of the fake dividers from another Miami-Dade company called We Source It, which is now defunct. We Source It was owned by a Miami-Dade couple named Victor and W. Ivette Cabanas, who created that business to buy the counterfeit poles from a manufacturer in China, the lawsuit alleges.
Orafol is suing the Chinese manufacturer, the Cabanas couple, and SSBC in addition to DBi. DBi has denied the counterfeit allegations in court filings, and the Cabanas’ lawyers have challenged the federal court’s jurisdiction, Politico Florida reported.
Flexstake’s lawsuit was moved back to Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee earlier this month. The office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi chose not to prosecute Flexstake’s allegations against DBi, after some of its lawyers said in court documents that the company hadn’t provided proof that DBi made false claims involving state funds.
Bondi spokeswoman Kylie Mason told Politico Florida that the decision “was informed by our discussions with ... the Florida Department of Transportation,” but FDOT said in a statement that it was the attorney general’s office decision to not prosecute.
Flexstake’s lawsuit asserts that using the fake dividers could endanger drivers in addition to costing taxpayers, and Politico Florida reported that three negligence lawsuits accuse DBi and FDOT of improperly maintaining the dividers distinguishing the express lanes, resulting in injured drivers. FDOT’s lawyers said in those cases that the state is not liable for such injuries, though those cases are moving forward after that argument was rejected by a judge.