Trio Charged With Stealing Millions From Miami-Dade Aviation

July 31--A 20-year employee of a firm contracted by Miami International Airport to run an exclusive lounge for fliers was arrested Thursday, accused of stealing more than $2 million from the county's aviation department.

Elena Iglesias, 45, an account manager with International Airport Management Inc., was charged with organized fraud, grand theft and two counts of money laundering.

A joint investigation by Miami-Dade police, the state attorney's office and Miami-Dade Aviation found that Iglesias, her husband Lazaro Iglesias and her co-worker Malena Rodriguez used "shadow" bank accounts to divert into personal bank accounts $2.19 million worth of lounge vouchers provided by various airlines and meant for Miami-Dade Aviation.

The alleged money laundering took place between January 2012 and February 2014. Investigators believe the trio used the money to pay off credit card bills -- including $546,008 in American Express debts -- car loans, prepaid college accounts and mortgages.

Since 1999, IAMI has operated Club America, an invitation-only waiting area that offers private work stations, Internet, cable TV, showers and a complimentary full bar.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle will announce the arrests at a 2 p.m. news conference at her office.

"Some of the money deposited into the shadow IAMI account was used to pay for mortgages on residential properties held by Lazaro and Elena Iglesias, and other personal expenses," Miami-Dade Police Detective Richard Wilkinson wrote in an arrest-warrant affidavit.

The system was supposed to work like this: Airliners supplied special passengers with vouchers to use at Club America. Passengers would then turn in those vouchers at the entrance to IAMI, which would bill the airlines.

The airlines paid with company checks made out to AIMI. The management firm was supposed to deposit those checks directly into an account belonging to Miami-Dade Aviation. But investigators contend that for two years the Iglesiases and Rodriguez deposited the money into personal Wells Fargo bank accounts.

The investigation found that money allegedly stolen by the trio came from 11 airline carriers, including $1.1 million from Swiss International Airlines, $347,000 from Taca International Airlines, and $279,000 from Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Copyright 2014 - The Miami Herald