Former Miami Beach official arrested on corruption charges

Mariano Fernandez, 64, accused of accepting favors from South Beach hotel

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Glenna Milberg - Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - A former official for the city of Miami Beach surrendered to authorities Tuesday on corruption charges.

Mariano Fernandez, 64, who was the former director of the Miami Beach Building Department, is charged with unlawful compensation for official behavior and conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation.

Fernandez's attorney was with him when he surrendered Tuesday.

The former building director was fired from his position in November by the city manager after an anonymous tipster claimed that Fernandez was receiving favors, such as free hotel stays, from a South Beach hotel that he was in charge of permitting.

"Since my appointment as city manager in 2013, I have worked tirelessly to promote a culture of high ethical standards in Miami Beach," City Manager Jimmy Morales said in a statement. "I made it clear that I would not tolerate any unethical or criminal behavior. I set high standards of honesty and integrity for all city employees, especially my management team."

The hotel in question was identified in an arrest warrant as the Hotel Riu Plaza Miami Beach, a 284-room hotel at 3101 Collins Ave. 

According to the warrant, Fernandez solicited and accepted benefits for him and others from the hotel at the direction of Alejandro Sanchez Del Arco, who is the regional vice president of RIU Hotels & Resorts and hotel manager Ricardo Luque, and with permission of the owner Luis Riu Guell Jr. and CEO Pepe Moreno.

The warrant stated that the hotel underwent a major renovation between October 2013 and June 2016, at which time the company had difficulties with the permitting process with the Building Department and with the Miami Beach Fire Department. 

Fernandez helped guide Riu Guell through the permitting and inspection process, including "taking official action to assist the hotel," the warrant stated.

That action allegedly included Fernandez lifting stop orders, inspecting the hotel personally and issuing permits where fire inspectors would not.

"It's incredible what has happened with Mr. Mariano," Riu Guell allegedly wrote in an email that was collected as evidence. "Not even in our best dreams would we have imagined that the supreme boss, the leader/chief, would come and do the project inspections. I still can't believe this. Do everything that he asks."

As a reward for his guidance and direction, Fernandez and his associates was allegedly given multiple complimentary or significantly discounted rooms at the hotel and other RIU properties.

The warrant claimed that the company also offered a significantly reduced rate for the entire Miami Beach Building Department to stay at an all-inclusive RIU resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in 2015, and in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in 2016. 

"When Mr. Fernandez was appointed as the building director in May 2013, I had extensive discussions regarding my expectations in regards to ethics," Morales said. "As city manager, I can provide all of the tools needed for an employee to make the right decision when faced with an ethical dilemma. Ultimately, it is up to each individual employee to make the right decision themselves.  

"It angers me to see something like this happen in a city that has made such important strides in making employees feel like they have the tools to handle these types of situations." 

Riu Guell and Sanchez Del Arco face the same criminal charges as Fernandez. 

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