MIAMI (CBS4) – Racketeering charges have been dropped against two high level Wackenhut employees accused of overbilling the county for Metrorail security.
Prosecutors said Thursday they couldn’t move forward with their case against Rene Pedrayes and Eduardo Esquivel.
One reason the case fell apart was because one of the state’s key witnesses, Miami-Dade police officer Juan Aviles, was gunned down in May while on vacation in Puerto Rico.
Aviles was going to provide alleged key testimony in the racketeering and conspiracy trial against the former Wackenhut managers who were implicated in September. Officer Aviles, as outlined in arrest warrants, was an individual who gives testimony in the case that included allegations that the county paid Wackenhut for security services that the company never produced.
Officer Aviles had testified that he previously worked for Wackenhut from 2000 to 2003. According to one warrant Aviles swore to, “One of the posts was routinely left unmanned. He advised that it was because Wackenhut was billing Miami-Dade County as if the post was manned. He added that this was known as a ‘ghost post’ among supervisors.”
Scott Srebnick, the attorney for Esquivel, however, said Aviles’ testimony had little to do with his client and Aviles’ death was not a factor in the state’s decision to dismiss the case against Esquivel.
The real problem, according to Srebnick and David Markus, the attorney for Pedrayes, was the fact that the state’s case relied on the testimony of Robert Alvarado.
Alvarado, a former Wackenhut supervisor, had been roundly discredited by defense attorneys, who argued Alvarado implicated Pedrayes and Esquivel as a way of getting out of trouble himself. Alvarado pleaded guilty in the fraudulent billing case, and hoped his testimony against Pedrayes and Esquivel would lighten his sentence.
Defense attorneys were able to convince prosecutors that relying on Alvarado would be foolhardy, especially after it was revealed he had been convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in Georgia in 2008.
The Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office has suffered some embarrassing and high profile losses in recent months, most notably the acquittal of Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones. It appears prosecutors were unwilling to risk another such loss in the Wackenhut case.
Prosecutors still maintain Wackenhut, now known as G4S Secure Solutions, deliberately overbilled the county for so-called ghost employees. Miami-Dade prosecutors contend that company employees 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.
Pedrayes and Esquivel were the two highest ranking of eight current or former employees charged in the Wackenhut case. The lower employees are still being prosecuted for allegedly falsifying records