By Jay Weaver
Convicted of swindling millions from Miami-Dade County government, former airport maintenance director Ivan Valdes has otherwise lived a life of charity and generosity, according to his defense attorney.
But the bad outweighed the good at his sentencing on Thursday, when a federal judge sent the former Miami International Airport supervisor to prison for seven years for masterminding a procurement-kickback scheme that cost the county more than $5 million.
U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles gave Valdes, 46, that punishment — three years shy of the maximum sentence — mainly because his lawyer, Sam Rabin, and the prosecutor, Jeffrey Kaplan, agreed in the defendant’s plea agreement that it would be “reasonable.”
Rabin said the defendant’s related bribery offense in state circuit court would ultimately be incorporated into the same punishment.
“The public has a right to expect that officials who oversee local government agencies are ethical, trustworthy, responsible and represent the best interests of the community,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a statement.
Arrested in September, Valdes was charged with steering nearly $9 million worth of high-tech light bulb sales to a Miami-Dade Aviation Department vendor and a distributor in cahoots with him.
Valdes and a retired airport executive, Jose Barroso, pocketed $2.2 million from the inflated sales, prosecutors said in a factual statement filed with the defendant’s plea agreement.
Valdes regularly collected grocery bags full of kickback money in an airport parking lot, according to charging documents and the FBI. And while he earned $98,000 at his county job, he owned a Porsche, rented skyboxes for concerts and wore hand-tailored Sartori Amici suits.
MIA, a county-owned airport with a budget of $1 billion, promoted Valdes in 2015 to director of terminal maintenance with 100 employees in what prosecutors said would also be the final year of a scam that began in 2010.
Valdes was apparently able to thwart the county’s inspector general at MIA by conspiring with both a light-bulb seller and a supplier who manipulated wholesale prices to keep other vendors out of the procurement process.