Mirtha Morejon supervised surplus auctions for Miami-Dade County and was pretty adamant that the system wasn’t quite ready for the shift to computerized transactions. That stance turned out to be particularly helpful when she rigged sealed bids to let her boyfriend purchase government property at discounted prices, authorities say.
The scheme alleged by prosecutors and county investigators involves an illicit romance, a secret Las Vegas wedding and a curious commitment to handwritten spreadsheets. Some of this might have been caught on film, but authorities say Morejon disabled the surveillance camera in her county office.
It all blew up in the spring of 2014 when the used-truck dealer accused of being in on the deception, Ruben Lopez, managed to snag a cut-rate price on a 2008 Lincoln Navigator linked in office buzz to having ferried around former mayor Carlos Alvarez before he left office in a 2011 recall.
When Morejon coworkers were processing the paperwork on the Navigator, they noticed a winning bid of $8,400 for Lopez’s company, Action Truck. They were sure it had gone for at least $14,000 during the auction, according to arrest warrants in the case.
That discrepancy sparked an inquiry, which eventually landed Inspector General investigators at Morejon’s Miami home last week to confront her with allegations that she frequently rigged bids allowing Lopez to secure surplus government property at the lowest prices possible.
“Morejon became emotional during the course of the interview and began to cry,” according to the affidavit attached to the warrant. “Agents asked her if she altered the bids to save Lopez money. Morejon continued crying and nodded in acknowledgment.”
Lopez and Morejon were charged with conducting an organized scheme to defraud, a felony. Lopez was also charged with a felony related to computer offenses. The fraud charge carries a possible prison sentence with a cap of between five and 30 years, depending on the severity of the offense.
Reached by cellphone Thursday, Lopez referred questions to a lawyer, William Norris, who declined to comment beyond saying that whether the allegations match up with reality “is something we will have to wait to find out.”
Morejon could not be reached. A lawyer who had initially planned to represent her, André Rouviere, said he was unable to due to a legal conflict. He declined to forward an interview request to Morejon, saying he generally considers it unwise for clients to discuss criminal cases publicly.
Much of the alleged fraud succeeded because of handwritten bid entries and auction records, paperwork that isn’t needed in the digital era. Felix Jimenez, Miami-Dade’s deputy inspector general, said investigators found Morejon was known for not wanting the county to computerize its auctions. “She kept resisting,” Jimenez said. “She said, ‘We’re not ready.’ ”
Investigators said Morejon and Lopez were linked romantically, despite Morejon already being married to a county employee. At some point, according to investigators, the alleged co-conspirators got married in Vegas at a time when Morejon was still married to another man. Morejon knew Lopez’s young son well enough that at one point the boy asked her to help him and his father buy a speedboat.
That would be a surplus police boat Miami-Dade was selling for Pinecrest in 2012.
Investigators said emails showed Morejon flagged the pending sale for Lopez, urging him to get ready to make a bid. “The more time passes, more people will find out about that boat and more money will be offered,” she wrote in Spanish, according to the warrant. “I believe there may be someone from Pinecrest interested in it because they sent it to get polished and they have it covered.”
A few days later, one of the county employees working for Morejon wrote a Pinecrest bureaucrat about the pending auction, saying his boss had researched boat prices and doubted anyone would bid if the city stuck with a minimum bid of $30,000. The city insisted on the price. Lopez ended up bidding $32,000, but someone else bid nearly $37,000 and bought the boat.
Investigators said that was the first suspicious auction they could find involving Lopez. And even though that apparent scheme failed, investigators said the pair improved their strategy in future auctions to steer government property to Lopez.
The charging documents say that while opening the sealed bids for surplus trucks, office equipment and other goods occurred before bidders at the “County Store” that Morejon ran in Hialeah, she would finalize the transactions alone in her office. There was privacy in there since, as she wrote to husband Michael Morejon in a 2012 email: “I disconnected the camera that was in my office, now I can see all of them and they can’t see me.”
Inside, according to the charging documents, Morejon would use white corrective ink on bid documents and her handwritten spreadsheet tracking auction offers to retroactively lower Lopez bids so that he would pay just a hair over the next-highest bid.
On May 31, 2012, Miami-Dade auctioned off a surplus John Deere tractor and other farm equipment. Action Truck originally bid $5,075 and won the auction. But investigators said both the bid document and the spreadsheet were altered to look like the winning amount was $4,375, just ahead of the second-place bid of $4,307. As a result, Miami-Dade lost out on about $700.
Morejon was fired from her $50,000-a-year county job in the fall of 2014 after a supervisor discovered she had disobeyed orders to shift auctions to an online system. She and Lopez are accused of participating in 10 rigged auctions between 2012 and 2014, with the alterations costing Miami-Dade about $17,000.
Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade’s state attorney, released a statement saying the pair represent a classic tale of government corruption.
“Morejon’s alleged scheme to cheat Miami-Dade County is a story of the betrayal of trust and responsibility,” Fernandez Rundle wrote. With the help of Lopez, “she took county resources and turned them into a personal profit.”