A Breach of Security

Tired of being overbilled, Miami-Dade officials are set to ban a security firm from county contracts

It's taken almost 20 years, but county officials have finally come to the conclusion that it's not safe for riders of Metromover and Metrorail to be guarded by ghosts and phantoms.

On Friday, County Manager George Burgess finally fired Wackenhut Corporation, the security firm who, according to a county audit, has been overcharging tax payers millions of dollars for work that was never done.

"Ghost posts" and "phantom billing" were just a few of the ways Wackenhut made sure they got every cent of a $104 million contract signed with the county in 1989.

The fraudulent practices weren't discovered until an NBC6 investigation in 2007 revealed security guards were being paid for hours they didn't work at the Metrorail, Metromover and the Juvenile Assessment Center.

The widespread fraud has allegedly cost tax payers between $17.5 million and $27 million. A lawsuit currently winding through the courts alleges Wackenhut essentially stole more than $35 million over the past seven years alone.

Of course, Wackenhut officials deny any wrongdoing and blame the countless examples of employees being paid despite not working on - you guessed it - the employees.

Burgess said Friday the county is cutting all ties with the South Florida security giant and bans Wackenhut from any further business with the county. The security guards should be totally replaced in the next four months.

Burgess also wants Wackenhut to pay for $3.4 million in overcharges over a two year period, but Wackenhut has refused to give up the loot.

While the allegations against Wackenhut are alarming, what may be equally troubling is the county's slow movement to solve the problem.

The issue was more than just about saving taxpayers money. It's also a matter of safety.

Thousands of people use the Metromover at night to go to and from festivals in Bicentennial Park or concerts at the AmericanAirlines Arena or a Heat game.

How many of those trips were on platforms unguarded when they should have been and the county was being billed for it?

Several former Wackenhut employees are currently locked in a legal battle for being whistle blowers. That could cost Wackenhut $100 million, much of which could be paid to Miami-Dade county.

But county officials could have stopped this train a long time ago.

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