(CN) – A South Florida man claims in court that City of Opa Locka officials extorted tens of thousands of dollars from him as he was trying to establish a construction equipment business in the community.
In a federal complaint filed in Miami on May 26, Francisco Pujol, a Cuban refugee who has lived in the United States since 1980, says he worked hard over the past 37 years to grow a tire recycling business.
In the early 2000s, the growth of his business, and its expansion into the storage, repair and sales of construction equipment, caused him to seek a new and larger location for the business, the complaint says.
Pujol says that he thought he found the ideal location in Opa Locka, but was told he needed to obtain an occupational license before he could open.
He claims that when he attempted to obtain that license, Demetrius Corleon Taylor, the son of the city’s mayor, refused to issue it unless the business man gave him $3,500.
“After obtaining the occupational license, Mr. Pujol received multiple visits at the direction of City Officials from Code Enforcement Director Gregory Days, who issued multiple citations to Pujol,” the complaint says.
According to the complaint, Days extorted $1,500 from Pujol, and then cancelled the code violation fines that had being issued against him.
Pujol says that when he obtained a second location for his business in Opa Locka, former City Manager David Chiverton also extorted $1,500 from him to allegedly remove property liens which had already been paid by the previous owner.
He says he had to pay the city an additional $1,200 to have all the property liens settled, and $2,500 to the Opa Locka Commissioner, Luis Santiago, so that he could obtain a new occupational license for the second property.
Chiverton also demanded $10,000 from Pujol in order to have the city issue his business a “license for heavy mechanics” for the second property, the complaint says.
Pujol claims that he sought the FBI’s assistance to stop the extortion and that under FBI surveillance Pujol gave $2,500 to Chiverton in a bathroom at the City Hall.
“… The City Officials did not engage in this extortion against non-Hispanic business and persons, but rather they specifically targeted Pujol because of his race, origin and ethnicity, just like another Hispanic business owner in Opa Locka who also cooperated with the FBI, Francisco Zambrana,” the complaint says.
According to a report from The Miami Herald, Chiverton was convicted in late 2016 to three years in prison for taking bribes from local business owners.
Pujol seeks compensatory damages on claims of violation of the Equal Protection Clause and deprivation of property rights without due process.
He is represented by Michael Pizzi Jr. and Douglas Jeffrey in Miami Lakes, Fla.
A representative of the city did not respond to a request for comment.