Amid the heated competition to develop a prime downtown site at 520 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami Dade College revealed that someone hired a private investigator to trail the attorney consulting for the college on the bidding process.
The investigator told a Miami Dade College trustee that he was following Bilzin Sumberg attorney Suzanne Amaducci-Adams for months, and that she had visited the Coral Gables home of Related executive Lissette Calderon on two occasions to drop off or pick up her daughter, who is friends with Calderon’s daughter.
The investigator, Mike Perl, would not disclose who hired him, and suggested there was “the appearance of impropriety” that Amaducci and Calderon’s interactions were not disclosed to the college.
If the investigator was hired by one of the proposers, it would be a violation of the “Cone of Silence,” an attorney representing the college wrote in a report.
Three proposers are now vying to develop the site: one group led by Related, another led by Gary Nader and another by Gregg Covin and Chad Oppenheim.
“Recently, one of our MDC Trustees [Marili Cancio] reported information received during an unsolicited contact made by a private investigator (Michael Perl). Mr. Perl stated he was preparing a report on what he suggested was a failure to disclose what he described as an improper relationship between Suzanne Amaducci (a partner at Bilzin Sumberg, the College’s outside counsel for the Project) and one of the proposers Lissette Calderon, The Related Group) that created a conflict of interest,” Roman Martinez, group director of purchasing for Miami Dade College wrote in a memorandum. “We understand that the private investigator, along with the Law Office of Benedict P. Kuehne, PA (Kuehne Law Firm), have been retained by a client they would not identify for the purpose of investigating alleged impropriety in the solicitation/procurement process for the Project. Neither the investigator nor the Law Firm has given the College any written report on their investigation.”
Miami Dade College hired former US Attorney Roberto Martinez to “conduct a fact-finding investigation” and to report on the allegations, and also brought on attorney Carol Licko to review the college’s procedures and the procurement process, including the allegations of an improper conflict of interest.
The college held a June 3 workshop to address the issue. After reviewing Martinez’s report and Licko’s recommendations, the board of trustees decided to move forward with the bidding process, according to the two-page memo, which was followed by 40 pages of exhibits, including Martinez’s report and Amaducci’s responses.
Amaducci said she knew Calderon, Related’s president of international and strategic projects, for eight years, since their daughters became friends while attending Plymouth Congregational Church Preschool in Coconut Grove. The daughters remained friends and both attended St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School in Coconut Grove from Pre-K through the fifth grade. They are graduating at the end of the year, and will be attending Ramsom Everglades School next year, according to the report.
Amaducci said she had disclosed her relationship with the Calderon family to the college’s evaluation committee and the office of legal counsel when Bilzin was being considered as a potential consultant to the college, Martinez wrote in his report. And because of the ongoing solicitation process, Amaducci said she and Calderon have “purposely limited our contact.” She said that she attended a dinner for the families of 12 children that would be attending Ransom Everglades and asked that she not be seated next to Calderon. She was seated at the opposite end of the gathering. She said she had been to the Calderon home “a handful of times” in 2016, all in connection with their daughters play-dates. She said she had never discussed the college’s solicitation with Calderon.
Miami Dade College Provost Rolando Montoya also told Martinez that Amaducci had told him: “I need to let you know that Lissette Calderon, who is president of one division of Related is my friend.”
A transcript of Martinez’s interview of the investigator shows he had Amaducci “under constant surveillance.” In fact, in a phone call with Martinez May 17, Amaducci told him that after she left Miami Dade College the previous day, “I am convinced I was being followed.”
“Mr. Perl and his partner, as well as Mr. Kuehne and Mr. Davis have declined repeated requests to identify their client,” Martinez wrote in his report. “If their client is one of the proposers, or someone acting directly or indirectly for a proposer, that contact by Mr. Perl would be a violation of the “Cone of Silence” since it involved the selection process.”
Since late last year, the college has been soliciting a developer to enter into a public/private partnership for the 2.6-acre parcel, currently used as a surface parking area at the college’s Wolfson Campus. The proposals are geared to include a cultural center with a 1,600-seat performing arts theater, a conference center that can house 3,000 people, a museum measuring at least 100,000 square feet, and parking.
Initially, Miami Dade College received an unsolicited proposal for the Nader Latin American Art Museum from a group of partners that included Nader, as well as and Roberto Rocha, CEO of Sofran Group, which prompted the college to put out bid packages. Proposals were due in January.
Related Group had come out on top among the four bidders in the evaluation committee’s ranking. Overall, the proposals’ ideas range from condo towers that would soar 75, 57 or 50 stories; a 39-story office tower; a 300-key or 100-key hotel, sculpture gardens, restaurants, a cultural center, museum and conference center, all at the college’s Biscayne Boulevard site.
The board of trustees voted in April to negotiate with the three top groups of bidders, and the process is ongoing.
Miami Dade College’s Martinez declined to comment further to The Real Deal on the memo.
Laura G. Galeano, chief marketing officer for Bilzin Sumberg responded to a request to Amaducci for comment, saying in a statement: “The independent report commissioned by Miami Dade College confirms that Ms. Amaducci has acted professionally and responsibly throughout the entire procurement process. Ms. Amaducci is looking forward to completing the project on behalf of the College.”
Nader, responding to a request for comment, said via email that he did not hire the private investigator. “I’m sure the College will do the right thing and the appropriate [authorities] will handle the matter efficiently,” he said.
Oppenheim did not immediately respond to TRD‘s request for comment.
“There is no violation of the cone of silence by Ms. Amaducci or Ms. Calderon,” Related General Counsel Betsy L. McCoy said in a statement, in response to a request for comment from Calderon. “Neither Ms. Calderon, nor anyone at Related, has done anything inappropriate during this process. Related has, and always will, observe the highest ethical standards of professional conduct as Related continues to work with MDC on a proposal that fulfills the College’s vision.”
The Next Miami first reported on the memo, which is available to the public on Miami Dade College’s website.