(WSVN) - Their business supplied temporary employees for the City of Fort Lauderdale, but then Fort Lauderdale refused to pay them and instead spent thousands of dollars in tax payer money to fight having to pay them, which is why they called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
If you own a business or run a city, there are days you need extra help…
Jorge Gonzalez, Albion Group: “So for temporary positions, we have clients throughout South Florida that are in need of folks to help them cover gaps in their business.”
Albion Staffing supplies temporary employees to 16 different cities and many companies.
Peter Santangelo, Albion Group: “We’ve been growing year on year even though the City of Fort Lauderdale is trying to put us out of business.”
Mention Fort Lauderdale here and smiles disappear.
Beginning in 2014, Albion was hired by the city to supply 20 temporary employees. The city wrote that Albion had to pay the workers a minimum of $16 an hour.
Andrew Titley, Albion Group: “To be very clear, we have always paid these people what the city told us to pay them.”
For 18 months everything was great…
Andrew Titley: “And then one day we stopped getting paid.”
Albion kept supplying the employees after being promised Fort Lauderdale would reimburse them. When the money owed to Albion reached $187,000, they said enough.
Andrew Titley: “We are the victims of a bunch of unscrupulous people within the city.”
Fort Lauderdale refused to pay Albion the $187,000, claiming the workers should not have gotten $16 an hour, but only $8.50 an hour, even though Albion says the city told them what rate to pay.
Peter Santangelo: “They said we should have brought it to their attention and that is just bogus, just wrong.”
Jorge Gonzalez: “Because they are the ones that dictate everything.”
Fort Lauderdale conducted an audit blaming the city for spending so much money writing, “senior management at the Department of Sustainable Management engaged in misconduct,” but even though it was their mistake for employing people the city commision didn’t approve, the city still refused to pay Albion.
Andrew Titley: “Because paying us what we’re due would be an embarrassment to the commissioners. I think they much prefer to pay legal fees which they can justify as cost of doing business.”
Now with lawsuit in its second year, the legal fees are soaring.
Peter Santangelo: “We’re up to $70,000.”
I put in a public information request for the legal fees. The city has hired the law firm of Kim Vaughn Lerner.
Four months of legal bills are missing, but there are 47 pages of bills from the law firm, totalling $114,562 in legal fees as the city battles Albion to avoid paying them.
Peter Santangelo: “The taxpayers are being destroyed and they don’t even know.
Andrew Titley: “I’m sickened to my stomach. It’s basically, it’s highway robbery. They picked on a small company.”
Well Howard, can the city pay a law firm at least $114,000 to get out of paying money a business says the city owes them?
Howard Finkelstein, 7News Legal Expert: “Even if the city owes the business the money, even if they are wrong factually, legally, the law does not stop them from spending as much money as they want. The only option taxpayers have if they city does this, is to elect new politicans and demand they put new managers in place.”
We wanted to talk to Lee Feldman, the Fort Lauderdale City Manager. A spokesman wrote they did not comment on pending litigation.
And the legal battle waged on —
Finally this month, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission agreed to pay Albion half of the $187,000, or $93,000. Albion accepted it.
Meaning, so far Fort Lauderdale has spent $207,000 to avoid paying the original $187,000 bill.
Peter Santangelo: “It’s settled because no one can afford the attorneys anymore.”
Fortunately, business is good for Albion. They do work for 16 other cities, but there is one city you will never see on their list…
Patrick Fraser: “You wont work for Fort Lauderdale again?”
Peter Santangelo: “Not work for Fort Lauderdale again. Couldn’t. Who could you trust?”
Now while the city has spent over $100,000 in legal fees to fight paying Albion, in the documents they provided me, there are no legal bills for four months, meaning the cost to taxpayers may keep rising. We will keep checking.
Troubles temporarly taxing you? Ready for a permanent solution? Hire us. We are fully staffed, and work for you… for free. With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser 7News.
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Reporter: Patrick Fraser at firstname.lastname@example.org
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