Broward County officials have filed suit against the parking management company of the Fort Laurderdale-Hollywood International Airport, as well as its owner, alleging that the company knowingly submitted false - and inflated - invoices.
Contingency business litigation attorneys realize that cases such as this, with conflicting payment disputes, often stem from innocent misunderstandings or accounting errors. However, proving it in civil court, however, requires a skilled attorney - particularly in a case like this, where $47 million is at stake.
According to the Sun Sentinel newspaper, the county is suing USA Parking and owner Central Parking Corp. (both out of Tennessee) for allegedly defrauding the county by submitting more than 100 false invoices that made it seem as if the county owed more money to the company than it actually did.
While the company has denied billing the county anything over what was actually owed, plaintiff attorneys maintain that company officials admitted the fraud under oath. It's not clear at this point what evidence the county has to support this claim.
Both sides are currently discussing a settlement, but it's not clear if they are anywhere near reaching a resolution.
The county says that the company significantly over-billed on insurance for at least two years. Apparently, the parking company was largely self-insured. It reportedly charged the county for insurance at a premium rate, while the parking company was paying a much lower rate, and then keeping the difference. The county is going so far as to say the parking company produced phony letterhead from an insurance broker.
Parking administrators say these bills were appropriate and that the county was never charged any more than what it had agreed to pay.
Still, as a result of the seriousness of the allegations, the county's director of aviation is attempting to bring in another company to at least temporarily handle the airport's parking contract on an emergency basis. That includes waiving any competitive bid process that a company might normally have to undergo to land such a job.
If it is later revealed that the parking company was in the right, it may be owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue as a result of this action, specifically.
Parking is actually the biggest money maker for the airport, raking in nearly $3.5 million every single month, with profits topping $40 million annually. The company has held the contract for more than 15 years.
The allegations of fraud come at an interesting time, given that the county is a holding pattern with the company over that contract, which the county voted not to renew in the spring. It opened the bidding process, but the current company didn't make the shortlist. Now it's appealing that decision, and the entire process has been brought to a halt.
Usually, when a new bid is being negotiated, the old contractor will hold onto it until there is a final decision. But the county is attempting to use these allegations to push the old company out sooner.
Parking company officials say that the move is an unnecessary risk at a time when the airport is at its absolute busiest - during the holidays. Not only would the parking company lose, but the county could as well. Allowing an inexperienced company to move in on such short notice during such a chaotic time could result in all sorts of problems for travelers, which could spell big headaches for both the airport and the county.
The Ferraro Law Firm provides comprehensive legal services, including business litigation on a contingency-fee basis in Miami, Washington D.C. and New York City. Call 1-800-275-3332.
Broward County files lawsuit against USA Parking, Nov. 20, 2012, Staff Report, South Florida Business Journal
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