Sereca Security Defrauded Miami, Audit Claims

Feb. 14--A Doral company that provides security services to airlines at Miami International Airport shortchanged the county by more than $209,000 in permit fees in 2005 by underreporting its revenue, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General.

Sereca Security paid a 7 percent fee on $1,042,936 in reported revenue, but actually earned $4,030,290 in revenue, the IG's report found.

"It's a very serious problem," said Inspector General Christopher Mazzella. "We have to ensure that people who are given the opportunity to do business on airport property properly pay the county for the money that they make. In this particular case, that did not happen."

Sereca, owned by Jose Manuel Gonzalez, has been doing business at MIA since December 2004. The company does not have a contract directly with the airport, but with several airline clients, including Avianca, Lan, Arrow Cargo and TACA.

The IG's investigation revealed that the firm paid $73,005 in fees in 2005, rather than $282,120 that it owed, based on actual revenue. The company reported revenue from only about one of every four invoices or checks, the IG's report showed.

The IG's office has referred the matter to the State Attorney's Office for a potential criminal investigation.

Theresa Van Vliet, a Fort Lauderdale attorney representing Gonzalez and Sereca, said they dispute the IG's findings.

"We are confident that when the report of the independent accountant comes out, we will be vindicated," said Van Vliet, an attorney with Miami-based Genovese, Joblove & Battista.

The investigation into Sereca is part of a wider look at security firms operating at MIA. Mazzella said his office is investigating "a few" other firms but declined to specify how many.

He said the problem of underreporting revenue lies in the airport's system of checks and balances.

"Right now there is a considerable amount of trust placed on the companies that are reporting their revenues, and we need to find a better way to verify the information they provide," he said.

Miami-Dade Aviation Chief Financial Officer Anne Syrcle Lee said that the system allows companies to self-report their revenue, and only if it exceeds a certain threshold does the county require an external audit.

"We will probably institute some kind of audit requirement for everybody, because the county itself doesn't have the resources to check on every one of these, but we want to prevent this," Lee said.

The airport, which was already informed by the Office of the Inspector General of the shortchanged amount, invoiced Sereca for $209,114 in August, she said.

Sereca is paying in installments and has so far paid $77,000. It still owes $132,163, Lee said. The firm continues to work at the airport, but Miami-Dade Aviation will look into the possibility of pulling the company's permit.

"They are still operating for the firms they serve and reporting," she said. "We will now look at 2006 and consult with the county attorney as to all of our options."