Ex-city officials dodge questions about alleged misconduct

Fort Lauderdale investigation finds possible corruption, inside dealing

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Former Fort Lauderdale city engineer Pedram Zohrevand denied he did anything wrong while he oversaw the city's engineering department, but he ducked most questions when Local 10 News recently caught up with him at his home.

"You tried to steer work to a company you had personal affiliation with?" reporter Bob Norman asked Zohrevand, a former research assistant professor at Florida International University.

"I didn't do that. I did all things the right way," he said, before refusing to address several detailed questions and closing his door.

A city investigation of his actions while serving as a city supervisor, however, found that he may have violated several laws -- including official misconduct and bid tampering -- when he allegedly pulled strings to help a quickly formed startup engineering firm get city contracts fixing two city bridges.

The company getting the work, Engin-Ovation, was run by Amir Mirmiran, his professor and academic partner at Florida International University, where Mirmiran served as dean of the engineering school.

City records show that Zohrevand personally sent an email to project managers urging them to include Engin-Ovation -- whose president was listed as Mirmiran's wife -- in a three-company request for a proposal for the work, even though the firm was certified by the state to do the work.

The investigation also found that the plans Engin-Ovation submitted for the city work may have been pilfered from the city.

Lillian Rosa, the city's professional standards coordinator, wrote in her investigative report that Engin-Ovation's plans were "virtually identical" to previous city plans designed by a staff project manager for another project, plans that Rosa discovered Zohrevand had requested prior to their submission.

"Most importantly, the [existing city] plans, with minor changes, were later submitted by Engin-Ovation," Rosa wrote in her investigative report.

Prior to pushing for the Mirmiran-tied firm, state records show that Zohrevand had formed a corporation with Mirmiran's wife, as well as the wife of the man who hired him, then-public works director Hardeep Anand, a relationship Rosa determined was not disclosed to the city.

"Mr. Anand demonstrated questionable judgment since such an arrangement can lead to a frequently recurring conflict of interest between their public roles and private interests," Rosa wrote.

At the same time, Anand recommended Zohrevand be promoted to his assistant public works director and he be given a 10 percent raise "even though there were other better-qualified candidates," Rosa found. "It was unclear if Mr. Anand's recommendation was affected by his (or his wife's) undisclosed private business partnership with Mr. Zohrevand."

Despite the findings and the possibility of law-breaking, the city abruptly shut down the investigation when both Zohrevand and Anand resigned within days of each other in October, before either was interviewed.

"I recommend that this file be closed since there is no further employment action to be taken," Rosa wrote in her December closeout memo.

Anand refused comment when Norman found him at his new job as deputy director of the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department, where he oversees the county's massive $13.5 billion capital improvement project. A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the county was not informed of the Rosa investigation prior to his hiring.

Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman claimed that when he communicated with Miami-Dade staffers regarding Anand's hiring that he wasn't yet aware of the investigation.

"The city found that potential laws were violated and didn't forward this investigation to an outside agency to investigate -- why not?" Norman asked Feldman.

"Again, we have a process, we investigate our own matters," said Feldman.

The city did forward the investigation to the police department in January, but that came only after Norman's confrontation with Zohrevand and Zohrevand's subsequent request for a copy of the investigative report from the city. Feldman said the police investigation is ongoing.

Mirmiran meanwhile also has a relatively new job as provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of Texas at Tyler. A detailed voicemail requesting comment for this story was not returned by Mirmiran.

Zohrevand's attorney, Kevin Klagge, issued a media statement in which he wrote that "Dr. Zohrevand at all times acted in the benefit of the city of Fort Lauderdale" and claimed that Zohrevand didn't know about the city investigation until the day Norman questioned him about it. Feldman, however, said that wasn't the case.

"That's not true," said Feldman. "I believe he knew that an investigation was commencing back in October [before the resignation]."