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Crushed cars are shown under a section of a collapsed pedestrian bridge, Friday, March 16, 2018 near Florida International University in the Miami area. (AP) Crushed cars are shown under a section of a collapsed pedestrian bridge, Friday, March 16, 2018 near Florida International University in the Miami area. (AP)

Crushed cars are shown under a section of a collapsed pedestrian bridge, Friday, March 16, 2018 near Florida International University in the Miami area. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 4, 2020

Fact-checking Fla. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell’s attack on Gimenez over bridge collapse

If Your Time is short

  • The bridge collapse occurred years after Gimenez’s sons left their positions with the company.

  • The Miami Herald reported that an unnamed source said one son offered pro bono communications advice to the firm following the collapse.

  • The contract extension, ratified by a county board after being approved by Gimenez, was for airport construction work, not bridge work.

Claims of corruption in connection with a fatal bridge collapse are at the heart of an attack in a South Florida congressional race. 

Democratic incumbent Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell makes the attack against her Republican challenger, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, during a one-minute ad that claims "Corrupt Carlos" and his sons were "were connected to shady deal after shady deal, getting rich on our tax dollars."

The toss-up race pits Mucarsel-Powell, who immigrated from Ecuador as a child and is finishing her first term in Washington, against Cuban-born Gimenez, who has served as mayor of Florida’s most populous county since 2011. It’s one of 18 pivotal House and Senate races up for election on Nov. 3 that PolitiFact is tracking.

The main theme of Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign ad concerns the 2018 collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami, where Mucarsel-Powell once worked in the College of Health. The accident killed a bridge worker and five others, including Alexa Duran, an 18-year-old FIU student. Ten more were injured.

The ad claims that Gimenez’s son C.J. Gimenez "lobbied for the company that built that failed FIU bridge" and that C.J’s brother, Julio Gimenez, worked at the firm. "And after the bridge collapsed and killed six people, Gimenez extended the company’s $130 million contract."

The Gimenez sons did do work for the construction company during a period leading up to when the university announced that the company would be involved in the bridge’s construction, but they each cut formal ties before the bridge collapse.

And while Carlos Gimenez did initially approve a contract extension following the bridge collapse for the company to do airport work, not bridge work, that extension was also ratified unanimously by a county board.

The bridge collapse and blame

Florida International University announced in February 2016 that Tallahassee-based FIGG Bridge Engineers and Miami’s MCM — also formerly known as Munilla Construction Management — would design and build a $9.3 million pedestrian bridge. It was projected to be finished by summer 2018.

During construction on March 15, 2018, a 174-foot-long span fell about 18 feet onto a highway, crushing eight vehicles.

"FIGG Bridge Engineers severely underestimated the demand on the bridge (and) significantly overestimated the bridge’s capacity," National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said when the federal agency released its report on the accident in October 2019. 

"Contributing to the severity of the collapse outcome was the failure" of FIGG, MCM and others to cease work when cracking in the section that failed "reached unacceptable levels," the report said.

In May, Florida’s Department of Transportation announced it will launch a bid process for designing and building a new bridge.

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The Gimenez sons’ connections to MCM

Carlos Gimenez’s wife, Lourdes Gimenez, is a cousin of the Munilla brothers, who run MCM, now known as Magnum Construction Management.

Their son Julio Gimenez was a general superintendent at MCM from 2006 to 2012, according to his LinkedIn profile. He left shortly after his father’s election as mayor in June 2011, the Miami Herald reported.

Another son, C.J. Gimenez, was a registered lobbyist for MCM as of January 2016, according to a Miami-Dade Expressway Authority web page posted by Mucarsel’s campaign. MCM has said he lobbied for the company in 2015.

C.J. Gimenez offered the firm pro bono communications advice after the bridge collapse, according to someone who has spoken to him, the Miami Herald reported, without identifying that person. C.J. Gimenez and the firm both told the newspaper he had no official role with the firm.

The MCM contract extension

In February 2019, Carlos Gimenez administratively extended through August 2020 a contract the county had made with MCM in 2011 for work at Miami International Airport. 

Five months later, he recommended that the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners ratify the extension. The board did so unanimously, although one commissioner later said he didn’t realize that that’s what he had voted for. Gimenez had said the extension with MCM, which filed for bankruptcy in March 2019 following the bridge collapse, would allow for continuity of work at the airport until a new contract could be approved. 

The extension covered a $40 million piece of a $130 million contract.

In response to the extension, the state Legislature passed a bill to require local airport authorities to abide by new ethics rules or lose state transportation money. It has not yet been presented to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Once it has, he has 15 days to take action. 

"Once we receive the bill, the Governor will review the legislation and make a decision based on the best interest of Florida," a DeSantis spokesman said.

Our ruling

Mucarsel-Powell claimed that after a March 2018 bridge collapse that killed six people, Gimenez extended a $130 million contract to the construction company, where one of his sons worked and for which another lobbied.

The two sons did work for the company in the period leading up to when Florida International University announced that the company would participate in the bridge construction, but cut formal ties before the bridge collapse. The Miami Herald reported that an unnamed source said C.J. Gimenez offered the firm pro bono communications advice after the bridge collapse. 

Nearly a year after the accident, Gimenez extended part of a 2011 contract with the company for airport construction work. The county board approved the extension.

For a statement that is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, our rating is Half True.

Our Sources

YouTube, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell "Family Ties" ad, Aug. 21, 2020

Email, Nikki Rapanos, Carlos Gimenez campaign spokeswoman, Aug. 31, 2020

Interview, Joshua Karp, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell campaign spokesman, Sept. 1, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, it was not an all-female company that built the bridge that collapsed in Florida," March 20, 2018

National Transportation Safety Board, "Pedestrian Bridge Collapse Over SW 8th Street, Miami, Florida, March 15, 2018," Oct. 22, 2019

Miami-Dade County, memo, July 23, 2019

Email, Cody McCloud, press secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sept. 3, 2020

Email, Jenna Box Sarkissian, communications director, Office of the House Majority Leader, Sept. 3, 2020

Miami Herald, "In Miami, MCM thrives on big county contracts. Now it faces the FIU bridge catastrophe," March 19, 2018 

Associated Press, "NTSB blames Miami bridge fall on design, lack of oversight," Oct. 22, 2019

Associated Press, "Airport contract extended with collapsed bridge builder," July 23, 2019

Debbe Mucarsel campaign website, "Media center," July 28, 2020

USA Today, "Design errors draw blame in collapse of FIU pedestrian bridge that killed 6," Oct. 22, 2019

Miami Herald, "Miami-Dade extended FIU bridge builder's contract, no questions asked. That may change," Aug. 1, 2019

McClatchy, "YouTube attack ad by Mucarsel-Powell has ‘false’ allegation, Gimenez lawyer says," Aug. 20, 2020

WayBack Machine, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority registered lobbyists,  as of Jan. 21, 2016

Miami Herald, "MCM, bankrupt builder on FIU bridge project, up for extension on airport contract," July 23, 2019

Miami Herald, "Miffed about MIA's renewed deal with FIU bridge builder, lawmaker pushes ethics bill," Jan. 16, 2020

LinkedIn, Julio Gimenez profile, accessed Sept. 1, 2020

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Fact-checking Fla. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell’s attack on Gimenez over bridge collapse

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