The U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged a former Broward County traffic director with bribery, fraud and extortion in a case that allegedly ripped off taxpayers of millions of dollars.
Former traffic director Jihad El Eid stands accused of accepting at least $150,000 in bribes from the owner of utilities company that was contracting with the county to provide fiber optic cable for the county’s traffic signal program. Also charged was his relative, Wael El Eid, who formerly lived in Coral Springs.
Last year, while under investigation and media scrutiny, Jihad El Eid disappeared from a government job in Amarillo, Texas, apparently fleeing the country to his native Lebanon. He hasn't been seen since and even his attorney, Fred Haddad, said he didn't know where El Eid is residing. The U.S. Attorney's Office issued a press release saying both Jihad and Wael El Eid are believed to be in Lebanon and have failed to appear in court.
The government alleges that in exchange for the cash and a job for Wael El Eid, El Eid rigged the system to improperly increase the Southeast Underground Utilities' contract from $6.6 million to over $21 million without bids; orchestrated massive overpayments from the county to the company; and shifted at least $3 million in savings meant for taxpayers to the company.
Anthoneel Allen, the owner of Southeast Underground Utilities, and James Hasim, an associate, were charged with bribery on Tuesday. The company’s workyard, which was raided by the FBI last year, is no longer being used by the company.
The investigation into Southeast Underground began with an anonymous letter sent to the county about the company. That led to the federal investigation and the firing of El Eid, said Broward County Public Works Director Tom Hutka.
“What we found was there was several instances of overpayment out of line items and work that was not properly done," said Hutka.
After El Eid left Broward, he was hired as a traffic engineer in Amarillo, Texas. In July, about a year after Local 10 broke the story about the FBI investigation, he cleared his apartment and left for Beirut, according to Texas news reports, and was fired in absentia.
Hutka said the case has led the county to implement several new safeguards in the way public contracts are overseen.
"Are you 100 percent confident that this won't happen again?" asked Local 10's Bob Norman.
"We at Broward County are very confident that this will not happen again. We have added many safeguards to make sure our contracts are properly managed," said Hutka.