Miami city inspector accused of bribery scheme involving lunch trucks

Jose Fabregas
Jose Fabregas Miami-Dade Corrections

Prosecutors on Friday charged a Miami building inspector they say shook down construction companies to steer business to a lunch-truck company — whose owner was secretly slipping him cash sometimes stuffed in containers along with Cuban pastries.

Jose Fabregas, a projects manager for the city’s building department, surrendered Friday to face charges of bribery and unlawful compensation.

Investigators say Fabregas secretly received tens of thousands of dollars in cash from a company called De Leon Catering. In exchange, Fabregas wielded his influence with managers at Miami high-rise condo construction sites, promising help with permits if they allowed the lucrative spot serving food to workers, according to prosecutors.

“Fabregas was actually looking to find a way to reach into the pockets of those companies who are part of Miami’s ongoing multi-billion dollar construction boom,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rudle said an afternoon press conference. “He thought he had found a little noticed way to do this.”

The arrest stemmed from a larger corruption probe by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Public Corruption Task Force.

Fabregas, 66, has worked with Miami for a decade. In his role, he was tasked with serving as a go-between for the city’s building department and private construction companies. He oversaw regulation of permits for pouring concrete and blocking traffic, and also had authority over hours constructions crews could work.

Fabregas’ conduct surfaced when five rival lunch-truck companies complained to the city that a government official had been getting them run out of high-rise condo construction sites across the city, according to an arrest warrant by Miami Detective Frank Castillo and State Attorney Investigator Michael D’Ambrosia.

Detectives probed financial records and used undercover video and secretly recorded phone calls in building a case against Fabregas. A judge even approved a wiretap — rarely used in state criminal court cases — to listen in on Fabregas’ phone calls.

They found Fabregas, while his bank account was dry, was paying cash for daily expenses — plus two expensive flights to Barcelona for vacations. And GPS monitors and surveillance showed him constantly meeting with Jesus Vargas, the owner of De Leon Catering, who was videotaped giving Fabregas an envelope with cash for spending money for his vacation, prosecutors say.

The investigation also revealed that Vargas and Fabregas called the payoffs “pastelitos” — Vargas would often give him cash hidden in a Styrofoam container filled with the Cuban pastries. Fabregas was a regular at Versailles, the iconic Cuban restaurant on Southwest Eighth Street.

Employees from several high-profile construction companies building projects around Miami — including Moss Construction, Swire Properties and Plaza Construction — told investigators Fabregas approached them suggesting he could help them if they hired De Leon to sell food to workers.

According to prosecutors, one company – NR Group 3 Contractors – paid Fabregas over $4,000 after he promised he would help them on permits for demolishing the famous Tobacco Road bar.

Eventually, detectives wearing secret video cameras approached Fabregas in the yogurt aisle in a Kendall Publix and he spontaneously confessed, according to the warrant approved by prosecutor Trent Reichling.