Questions raised about Miami-Dade Commissioner Barreiro’s votes for friend’s firm

Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro voted to award a $25 million contract to Munilla Construction Management to build a test track for Metrorail cars in May and again in November. In between both votes, he rented office space from the firm’s owners, county records show.

Less than two months before the second vote, four Munilla family members — Pedro, Juan, Jorge and Fernando contributed the maximum amount of $500 each to Barreiro, who was well on his way to retaining his commission seat for a fifth time.

County records show Barreiro rented the office as his campaign headquarters between June and November, paying $700 a month for the property at 1429 SW First St., in Miami.

Barreiro, who acknowledges being close friends with several of the Munilla family members, has voted to grant at least two other multi-million dollar construction contracts to MCM in the past two years.

In late 2011, MCM won a $50 million contract to do miscellaneous work at Miami International Airport. Barreiro, as the chairman of the Regional Transportation Committee, sponsored the bill. In January, he voted to award a $7.7 million contract to the firm to expand Terminal D at PortMiami.

The commissioner said he did not perceive any conflict in renting office space from the Munilla family.

“If I got it free, it would be a conflict. I specifically made sure I paid rent,” said Barreiro, who did not seek advice from the county’s Commission on Ethics & Public Trust.

That agency’s guidelines prohibit elected officials from entering into contracts with persons or entities that do business with the municipality the elected official represents, “unless the transaction is an arms-length transaction made in the ordinary course of business.”

The issue came to light this week as part of a contentious bid protest in the city of Miami. The city’s procurement office is investigating whether MCM was operating out of the Southwest First Street office space when it bid on a multi-million dollar city contract this summer — or if the company was using the address as a phony satellite office to get preferential treatment in the procurement process.

Businesses that operate within city limits are favored over other contractors.

Miami first solicited proposals from companies interested in building a promenade at Museum Park in late July. Five companies responded, including the Chicago-based FHP Tectonics Corp., which offered the best deal: $7.7 million.

MCM offered to do the job for $8.4 million. But because MCM claimed to have an office operating within Miami city limits, and was offering a price close to FHP’s, both firms were given the opportunity to resubmit their bids.

After revising their pitches, MCM proffered the better value: $7.62 million compared to FHP’s new offer of $7.64 million.

In early October, the city’s Capital Improvements Department recommended the city choose MCM.

But questions soon began to surface about the Miami address MCM had given the city procurement office. FHP officials drove by the Southwest First Street property on at least three occasions and found only Barreiro’s campaign office, according to affidavits provided to the procurement office.

“On the sign was the picture and name of Bruno Barreiro,” Todd DeCarolis of FHP wrote in a sworn statement. “I went in the front door to confirm and there was one older, Spanish gentleman and when I asked for MCM, he replied, ‘Not here.’ ”

When DeCarolis returned 12 days later, the Barreiro signs had been replaced by MCM signs, DeCarolis wrote in his statement.

DeCarolis submitted photographs documenting the change. A private investigator hired by FHP corroborated DeCarolis’s account that the office was being used as a campaign headquarters before Oct. 23, according to city records.

Barreiro said he is to blame for taking down the MCM signs, and that there was someone from MCM working alongside him in the office the entire time he rented the property.

“I, unfortunately, took the sign down,” he said.

After FHP filed a bid protest, Miami Chief Procurement Officer Kenneth Robertson launched his own investigation. Robertson discovered that while MCM’s top executives own the building on Southwest First Street, the company had not paid the tax required to run a business at that location. It had, however, paid the business tax on a South Miami property.

Robertson rescinded the recommendation to go with MCM on Dec. 5.

MCM is protesting the move. The company did not return calls from The Miami Herald.

“MCM is a local contractor that started in the city of Miami and has maintained a continuous presence in this city for nearly 30 years,” the company’s attorney, J. Alfredo Armas, wrote in a letter to the procurement office.

Armas contends that MCM had paid for the business license, but that it didn’t show up in county records.

County records show the property belongs to a company known as 1429 LLC, which is owned by the Munilla family. The two-story home has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was recently assessed at $346,458.

Barreiro reported paying his rent via checks written to another Munilla company, 1401 Professional Center LLC, from June 15 through Nov. 15, Miami-Dade County campaign disclosure records show. He voted to award the Metrorail contract on May 7 and Nov. 20.

The commissioner said he only rented the first floor, which has less than 1,000 square feet. He said he scouted several locations along the street — the same street where his family owns property — and was told repeatedly there was nothing available. He said he finally approached the Munillas and was told the office he rented was the only space available.

“Look, I buy my water from [Miami-Dade] Water and Sewer. Is that a conflict?” Barreiro asked. “The rationale of the conflict issue, this is not me, it’s a campaign, so I don’t see it. It’s not my contract, per se.”

University of Miami law professor Tony Alfieri, who also directs the school’s Center of Ethics and Public Service, said Barreiro’s votes to give MCM business raise questions.

“A county commissioner, like other citizens, has the freedom to associate, and that’s fine,” Alfieri said. “But in this case, given both his personal and business associations, and the campaign contributions, not only does he have the duty to disclose, but he has the duty to recuse.”

Meanwhile, Robertson, the Miami procurement director, is working on a final report to give to the Miami City Commission, he said. Commissioners will likely take up the issue at their next meeting on Jan. 10.

Commissioners want to move quickly so work on the Museum Park promenade project can begin.

“The museums will open and the park won’t be done,” Commission Vice Chairman Marc Sarnoff said.