By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
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Just two months after joining the district board, Miller made his mission clear: to increase NBHD business with minority firms. During a monthly board meeting on February 28, 2001, he announced that a decline in such contracts at the district was a "disturbing trend."
"There are 1,525 minority businesses [certified with the district], and I'd like to know how many of those are actually doing business," he told Gainey.
A month later, on March 27, 2001, Akhil Agrawal and his father, Piyush, met with district officials in hopes of winning some business for AMD, including the trash can liner work that Miller had abandoned. But the Agrawals were again met with a stone wall.
AMD turned to Miller to help the firm win business. In his deposition, Akhil Agrawal described the negotiations: "[Miller] said, 'Look, I don't want to do anything that would ever appear as being improper in any way. I can't represent you in North Broward. I'm going to make sure that the administration knows and it's on the record that you're a client of mine... I don't want to talk to you about the North Broward stuff. We can't discuss it."
On October 1, 2001, the deal was struck: AMD agreed to pay D.C. Miller & Associates $1,000 a month, plus bonuses for any contracts the commissioner helped the company win. In a recent telephone interview, Akhil Agrawal told New Timesthat the contract "specifically" forbids Miller from assisting the company in its district business. However, the agreement, which was obtained from the State Attorney's Office, doesn't include such a stipulation.
Agrawal's brother, Sukrit, indicated in a 2003 deposition that he hoped Miller would indeed use his influence at the district to help AMD get through the door:
Hanlon: Was part and parcel of your thinking that having [Miller] on retainer... would of course increase your chances of getting business from the hospital district?
Agrawal: I think the hospital district... we had been working on them for several years. As far as, you know, Miller's influence in that, at the time we engaged him, we did not expect him to become chairman or have a whole level of any influence really of any significance, you know.
Hanlon:Was it your hope that he would have some impact on their decision-making?
Agrawal: ... you always hope for something.
Those hopes soon turned into gold for AMD.
The first chunk of business Miller brought to AMD came not from the district but from the Broward County Commission contract for electronic voting machines. A Nebraska-based company, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), won the $17.2 million job in November 2001 and, under county mandate, had to award at least 10 percent of the contract to minority companies. ES&S hired the well-connected Miller to coordinate that part of the job.
Miller first gave himself the lion's share of the ES&S business. On December 3, 2001, he filed papers with the county indicating that his firm would receive $900,000 from ES&S to provide voting booths and do voter outreach. But when county staffers looked into Miller's company, they discovered he didn't have any warehouse space or means to transport the booths. So they forbade Miller from doing the work because it appeared that it would be a pass-through, which isn't allowed under county ordinances. Miller then simply enlisted his associates at AMD.
Hanlon's investigation determined that the voting booth work was unnecessary and was included in the deal only to artificially fulfill the minority requirement. But since the ordinance had no teeth, no one was ever punished. Instead, Miller and AMD were handsomely rewarded.
ES&S ultimately paid D.C. Miller about $225,000 for "voter outreach," according to county records, while AMD pulled in nearly $1 million. In July 2002, AMD sent Miller his first bonus check, for $27,535. In his deposition, Sukrit Agrawal claimed that check was for Miller's help in winning the voting booth contract. The firm also gave Miller another $10,000 that spring, which Agrawal said was for helping AMD win a $1.8 million-per-year job with the Florida Department of Corrections. But even Agrawal seemed skeptical of the role Miller actually played in the state contract. "It was an open bid... and we just happened to win," he told Hanlon. "We were lower by almost 40 percent than anybody. So would we have gotten it without [Miller]? Probably."
Akhil Agrawal and Miller deny that the commissioner used his influence on AMD's behalf at the hospital district. But Agrawal admitted to Hanlon that, after one board meeting, Miller introduced him to district CEO Wil Trower. "I guess it was at the end of the meeting when they were doing the finger food," Agrawal recalled. "[Miller] did come up [to Trower], and he said, 'I want you meet Akhil. They are American Medical Depot. They're a client of mine, but obviously not for the North Broward Hospital District.' So I know that Wil Trower knew the relationship from that."
Such connections are the lifeblood of businesses like AMD. When Hanlon asked Sukrit Agrawal what Miller had done for the company to earn his salary, the director of operations said, "Well, introductions to people is really the biggest issue."
Perhaps Miller introduced Agrawal to Gov. Bush as well. In August 2002, when the governor awarded AMD with the "Minority Vendor of the Year" honors in Tampa, his office issued a press release in which Bush and Akhil Agrawal expressed their admiration for each other. "[AMD's] commitment to customers and their industry partners to provide quality service is commendable," the governor declared. Agrawal, for his part, praised the One Florida plan and Bush for putting the "spotlight" on minority businesses.