OMAHA, NE - DECEMBER 8: Security guards talk while working at the Westroads Mall December 8, 2007 in Omaha, Nebraska. Westroads Mall reopened to customers for the first time today after Robert A. Hawkins killed eight people before taking his own life with a semi-automatic rifle at the Von Maur Department Store Wednesday. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
But despite the payout and admission of guilt, Wackenhut will be able to keep doing business with Miami-Dade County.
The payout follows a series of NBCMiami investigative reports exposing the overbilling in which Wackenhut, the global security firm founded in South Florida, charged the county for work never done.
It's a significant new development and perhaps final twist in a heated dispute over the long-running, lucrative security contracts for Metrorail and the Juvenile Assessment Center that, according to a variety of sources, nearly led to arrests.
Under the agreement, Wackenhut also got the county to agree to remove all references in the audit to whether Wackenhut was intentionally fraudulent, to get the county to say Wackenhut did not overbill the county on purpose, and to agree not to hold it against Wackenhut should anyone be “arrested in the future” in connection with this case, suggesting that Wackenhut believes it’s possible some of its executives could be charged criminally.
Wackenhut says they fired guards for cause. But security guards and managers told story after story of overbilling and what they felt was retaliation from Wackenhut attempting to hide the massive overbilling of taxpayers.
At an emotional gathering of more than a dozen former guards and managers for an on-camera interview in 2007, and scores of others who opted not to appear on camera, the common message was the overbilling and the fight to hide it has to stop.
One of the guards, Michelle Trimble, went even further. She filed a whistle-blower lawsuit claiming she was fired for telling authorities that Wackenhut was systematically billing taxpayers for empty posts. Her lawyers say they went through every single timesheet and logbook for years and found approximately $17 to $22 million in overbilling.
An angry Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez announced last year the county was moving toward firing Wackenhut and going after taxpayer money. Alvarez, the former Miami-Dade Police Director, even hinted at arrests of Wackenhut executives and county employees, and told staff to find the truth.
The county’s ensuing massive audit confirmed overbilling by millions of dollars and alluded, at least, that it was intentional.
When Wackenhut did not get its multi-million-dollar Metrorail contract renewed, the corporation went on the offensive suing everyone involved - even threatening NBC Universal and demanding retractions.
Company critics said what Wackenhut really feared was not paying out millions, but being disbarred, or “blacklisted,” by Miami-Dade County, a process that was actually underway. It would have prevented Wackenhut from doing business with the county, which could have a ripple effect with other government agencies everywhere and cripple Wackenhut's billions in government contracts nationwide.
So, after fierce closed door negotiations over years, Wackenhut agreed to pay $7.5 million dollars split this way: $3 million to the county, $1.25 million to Trimble and $3.25 million to her attorney Mark Veith.
"Well, it's been a long road," said Trimble, who said she wouldn't discuss the terms of the settlement but had always maintained it was not about money but about holding Wackenhut accountable. "I did what I felt I had to do on behalf of the taxpayers and my colleagues. I'm told that I can't say anything by my lawyer and others.
"It's been very tough," she added, emotion starting to show in her eyes. “Very tough."
The Miami-Dade Police public corruption unit and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s public corruption lawyers said they conducted extensive investigations but would not discuss what they found.
A Wackenhut lawyer did not return calls for comment.
Read a PDF of the Wackenhut/Miami-Dade agreement here.