Builder of doomed bridge has friends in high places

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez tweeted out photos from the FIU bridge opening.

March 17, 2018,Updated March 20, 2018

When Pedro Munilla was angling to build Florida International University’s $14 million pedestrian overpass, he wasn’t shy about trumpeting his local bona fides.

“As a proud FIU alumnus, member of the Dean’s Council for the School of Business and recent Recipient of the Torch Award for Distinguished Alumni…,” the Munilla Construction Management president wrote in the first line of his letter to the school’s selection committee.

But MCM, now under scrutiny after the bridge collapsed onto Southwest Eighth Street, crushing cars and their occupants, is no mom-and-pop outfit. It has powerful friends in the nation’s capital and has scored lucrative military contracts, including one worth tens of millions at the Guantánamo Bay military base.

Florida lawmakers have feted the company on the floor of Congress, in statements and in fund-raising events.

So well-positioned was the Miami construction firm that it was among several firms that met last year with a powerful Chinese investor looking for U.S. acquisitions. None other than Paul Manafort, the president’s now-indicted former campaign chairman, had a role in the Chinese investor’s hunt.

MCM was not responding to questions Friday as crews struggled to try to extract the crushed cars. A recorded message at Munilla headquarters in Miami said: “Our family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. … We’re all devastated.”

The firm is run by five brothers — Fernando, Jorge, Juan, Pedro and Raul — who collectively have given well north of $500,000 to federal candidates and more than $50,000 to state candidates, according to state and federal records.

Pedro — a former lawyer who gave up his law license in 2001 as part of a “disciplinary resignation,” according to a Florida Supreme Court filing otherwise devoid of details — has been the biggest giver, accounting for more than half of the federal total. He represented the brothers last June in a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and leaders in the Cuban community before President Donald Trump’s Miami speech on Cuban policy. He also hosted GOP fundraisers for Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, in 2015, and Carlos Curbelo’s congressional campaign, in 2014.

Pedro is also a fixture on the charitable fundraising circuit, participating in galas for the Liga Contra el Cancer, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Miami Bridge, and the Miami exile museum.

Between them, the Munilla brothers have given more than $100,000 to the anti-Castro U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee and have anteed up more than $60,000 to committees supporting Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and roughly $50,000 to committees supporting Sen. Rubio.

The love has been returned.