Nearly two weeks after the June 24 collapse of a condo building in Miami, more questions are being raised about what might have led to the tragedy that killed 36 people and left 109 people still unaccounted for.
Corruption may have been behind the maintenance neglect of the 12-story beachfront Champlain Towers South located in the Miami-Dade County town of Surfside, according to numerous reports.
The building construction and upkeep are shrouded in numerous red flags. Some are now questioning the actions of those involved in the development as well as local city officials.
Here are seven things to know.
The building’s owners — a Canadian developer named Nathan Reiber and two other American principals — had challenges from the start.
Initially, Reiber and his partners were unable to begin construction of the condo building because of a 1979 debt due to faulty sewers. They made a deal to pay half of the $400,000 debt for sewer repairs on the property and were given the go-ahead to begin construction, Merco Press reported. The building’s south tower was completed in 1981, and along the way, the owners were involved in shortcuts and payoffs to navigate through the permit system, according to local sources, The Times of India reported.
The 136-unit tower was on the verge of undergoing a renovation estimated at $15 million to pass a 40-year recertification required by the Miami Dade county when it collapsed.
Engineers had warned the management as early as 2018 about problems with the structure, New York Times reported. The problems went unaddressed.
The developers of the building had been under investigation for allegedly bribing local officials to get the permit to build the condominium, Merco Press reported. Reiber and his associates also allegedly stole tens of thousands of dollars from coin-operated washing machines in buildings they owned in Canada and pocketed about $120,000 worth of bogus construction checks, the Washington Post reported.
Reiber, a lawyer, was investigated for a number of wrongdoings. In 1984, Reiber was cited for professional misconduct by the Law Society of Upper Canada for a tax evasion case, according to the Washington Post.
Construction rivals complained that the partners behind Surfside Champlain Towers South were receiving preferential treatment when it came to approving the permitting system.
Reiber and his associates contributed to the campaigns of at least two city council members and then demanded that the donations be returned when the allegations emerged, according to the Washington Post.
On June 6, Miami Beach Building Director Mariano Fernandez turned himself into the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. He is under investigation as to whether he accepted a gift from a hotel that received approvals from his department. It will most likely lead to an investigation into any possible connection between Fernandez, his department, maintenance neglect and the building collapse of the Champlain Towers South.
Fernández was the city’s chief building official until he was fired in November after he was accused of accepting unlawful compensation in the form of free and deeply discounted rooms from RIU Hotels & Resorts, which received permits and approvals from Fernández’s department, The Miami Herald reported.
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All of the directors believed to have been involved in the design and construction of the building are already dead when the building collpased, Merco Press reported. Reiber died in 2014.