High ranking Wackenhut executives charged with bilking Miami-Dade www.privateofficer.com
According to court documents released Friday, former Wackenhut supervisor Robert Alvarado told police that he met with executives Rene J. Pedrayes and Eduardo Esquivel in late 2001 to complain that his staff was stretched too thin to properly guard county Metrorail stations.
“Pedrayes became extremely irate and demanded, while cursing, that all posts be covered even if Alvarado had to `ghost’ them,” slang used to describe billing shifts that were not filled, or only partially filled, an arrest warrant said.
When Alvarado fretted that county authorities would discover Wackenhut’s alleged scheme, “Pedrayes told him to shut up and not to worry because they had that covered.”
Pedrayes and Esquivel were charged Friday with racketeering, joining Alvarado and four other former employees arrested earlier this month. An eighth ex-employee, secretary Erika M. Reyan, also was charged Friday.
Alvarado told Miami-Dade police public corruption detectives that Esquivel, then a Miami general manager for Wackenhut, “instructed him” on how to juggle overstretched security guards and fraudulently pay them as though they had worked their entire shifts, the warrant said.
Pedrayes no longer works with Wackenhut, while Esquivel now holds Pedrayes’ former role as Wackenhut’s regional vice president, according to court documents.
Before Friday, the highest-ranking ex-Wackenhut employee arrested was Elijah Pendleton, the former project manager for the Metrorail contract.
Wackenhut, as a company, has not been charged, although Miami-Dade prosecutors have not ruled out further action.
“We remain confident that the facts will show that the company did nothing wrong and we will vigorously defend our reputation and the reputation of our management,” the company said in a statement Friday. “We have always maintained that if anyone is guilty of these allegations, then they have stolen from both Wackenhut and the county.”
Lawyers for Pedrayes and Esquivel said their clients passed polygraph tests.
Esquivel’s defense lawyer, Scott Srebnick, denied Alvarado’s claims.
“Eddy is 100 percent innocent, and the prosecutors did not let the truth get in the way of a good story,” he said.
Pedrayes’ lawyer, David O. Markus, called Alvarado “a rat looking to save his skin.” He said: “This is a witch hunt by the state.”
Miami-Dade prosecutors contend that the group stole at least $76,000, amounting to 3,500 hours of security work not performed between 2002 and 2005.
The total amount fraudulently billed to the county is likely much more, investigators said, because a 2008 county audit estimated overbilling at $3 million to $5 million.
Wackenhut has long insisted the audit was flawed.
To prove racketeering, prosecutors do not need to account for every penny of the alleged overbilling, but must prove a pattern of defrauding taxpayers.
Wackenhut has been under scrutiny since a series of lawsuits filed in 2005 by former employees alleged that the company could not cover its shifts, forcing supervisors and roving patrols to fill the gaps.
After the allegations surfaced, the county stopped doing business with the Palm Beach Gardens-based company, which began guarding Metrorail stations in 1989.
In February, Wackenhut and the county settled a contract dispute over the alleged overbilling. The company is now eligible for future county contracts after shelling out $3 million to Miami-Dade, plus an additional $4.5 million to one former employee who had sued the company.