Miami Airport's Fuel Firm to Pay County Millions

The company hired to oversee the fuel depot at Miami International Airport -- which became a free-for-all of stolen jet fuel and fraudulent contracts -- has agreed to repay the county more than $2.5 million in a deal with prosecutors.

The money paid by ASIG Fueling Miami Inc., is intended to help cover airport losses tied to corruption at the fuel farm, where as much as 30,000 gallons of jet fuel were stolen monthly and peddled on the black market, and where contractors pumped up their bills for phantom work, investigators say.

About $1.8 million from ASIG is supposed to recoup jet-fuel losses, and $500,000 is restitution to help cover inflated invoices from contractors hired to work at the airport grounds, prosecutors said. Another $255,000 will cover the costs of the investigation.

The fuel theft and the contract scams took place under the watch -- and, in some cases, under the guidance -- of ASIG's chief supervisor at the fuel farm, Richard Caride. He is now a cooperating witness for prosecutors, who have arrested 18 people and charged five companies with wrongdoing at the airport.

ASIG will also plead no contest to one count of fraud under an agreement that will be formalized next week before Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola.

''The company immediately began cooperating with the State Attorney's Office and did its best to clean house,'' said ASIG's attorney, Ben Kuehne.

ASIG is a subsidiary of Aircraft Services International Group, which manages fuel service at many airports, including Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando and Sarasota. ASIG no longer manages MIA's fuel farm.

IMPROVED OVERSIGHT

While the schemes at the fuel farm happened ''under their watch,'' company executives were unaware of the crimes, Kuehne said. He said the company has improved its oversight and auditing systems in the wake of the scandal.

Kuehne said the company had been unaware of Caride's scandalous past: As a Hialeah police officer, Caride was convicted of second-degree murder for his role in a 1985 home invasion that ended in a double shooting. Caride agreed to testify against his co-defendant, and served three years of a seven-year prison sentence.

''The company was very surprised to learn about that,'' he said.

GUILTY PLEAS

So far, at least five people implicated in the scandal have agreed to plead guilty, including Caride and Jacques Evens Thermilus, a builder who also gave prosecutors information about former Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele. Teele, facing state and federal corruption charges, killed himself in July.

Last week, the co-owners of American Petroleum Services Inc., Nelson Quintero and William Paul, were each sentenced to three years' probation after pleading guilty to fraud. Each must also pay $75,000 in restitution and costs. Their company supplied fuel systems and parts to the airport, overcharging the county for needless repairs, prosecutors say.

Another former ASIG employee, 29-year-old Eduardo Romero, has also pleaded guilty to fraud and is expected to cooperate with investigators.

The remaining defendants have all pleaded not guilty.

Miami Herald



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