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Fmr. Miami Aiport Official Indicted

August 4, 2001

MIAMI (AP) _ The former head of a rebuilding project at Miami International Airport was indicted on charges that he accepted $296,500 in kickbacks from contractors.

The 34-count federal indictment unsealed Friday charges Ricardo ``Richard″ Mendez with bribery, tax evasion and filing false tax returns. His wife, Mirta, faces similar charges. Each could be sentenced to as many as 33 years in prison if convicted.

While directing the $6 billion project from 1996-98, Mendez accepted bribes from contractors hired to clean contaminated soil and provide computer simulations, prosecutors said. Two contractors have pleaded guilty to paying bribes.

Neither Mendez has been arrested. Officials said their surrender is being negotiated with Jose Quinon, their attorney. Quinon did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

In an interview two years ago with The Miami Herald shortly after he quit the airport, Ricardo Mendez denied any wrongdoing.

``Everything I did I thought was in the best interests of the airport,″ Mendez said then. ``It’s easy to blame me now that I’m gone. I can tell you I have not done anything illegal.″

Last year, the airport’s former telecommunications director was sentenced to eight months in jail on charges that he accepted World Series tickets and other gifts from a company he awarded a lucrative contract.

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