MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) — A former top Miami Beach city official is under arrest.
Former building official Mariano Fernandez surrendered Tuesday to authorities, CBS4 News partners the Miami Herald reports.
Fernandez is facing allegations he accepted free stays at resorts and was given discounted trips to the Dominican Republic and Mexico while doing favors for Spanish hotel chain RIU Hotel & Resorts.
As the top building official, As building director for Miami Beach, Fernandez had major say over inspections and permits for construction and renovation projects during his 4-year stint.
The State Attorney says Fernandez illegally helped the hotel executives pass building code inspections and get permits for extensive work being done at the hotel.
“In return Mr. Rui Guell allegedly offered Fernandez and his associates multiple complimentary and discounted rooms on the property,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
She also said the hotel RIU Plaza had even failed a surprise inspection and was deemed unsafe until Fernandez intervened for favors.
The charges were expected after Fernandez was fired late last year by the city and had been suspended since August.
Prosecutors believe that for nine months Fernandez regularly solicited free and comped rooms for him and his employees and even helped organize “team-building” retreats with deeply discounted rates.
“Mariano Fernandez and his wife stayed at numerous resorts and received special treatments and the stays were never paid for,” said Fernandez Rundle.
Fernandez is now facing a charge of unlawful compensation and conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation.
He and his attorney declined to comment on the matter as they walked into the State Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber had something to say about the arrest.
“We always want to send a message that this won’t be tolerated and we are always prepared to investigate,” said Gelber.
Miami City Manager Jimmy Morales issued a statement on Fernandez’s arrest saying in part,
“In August 2017, I suspended Mr. Fernandez without pay, pending investigation into the allegations of potential criminal actions in his public duties. Subsequently, on November 9, 2017, upon being made aware that the State Attorney’s Office would likely bring charges against Mr. Fernandez, I terminated his employment, effective immediately.
Since my appointment as City Manager in 2013, I have worked tirelessly to promote a culture of high ethical standards in Miami Beach. I made it clear that I would not tolerate any unethical or criminal behavior.”
Prosecutors are also going after the hotel chain, filing unlawful compensation charges against executives of the chain which has more than 100 hotels in 19 countries. This includes a resort on South Beach.
Luis Riu Guell, Jr., the co-owner of RIU Hotels & Resorts and Resorts and Hotel Executive Alejandro Sanchez are facing the same charges as Fernandez.
“Our investigation uncovered special favors that were undertaken and that benefited Mr. Riu and the hotel,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
The charges stem from a renovation being done at the Hotel RIU plaza at 31st Street and Collins Avenue on Miami Beach between 2013 and 2016.
The city manager said Miami Beach would look into other inspections by Fernandez to see if there was any other wrongdoing at other hotels or buildings and permits that should not have been granted.
Fernandez is being held on a $20,000 bond and if convicted and sentenced to prison, he could face between 5 and 15 years behind bars.