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Miami city manager denies conflict of interest but stops furniture purchases from wife's company

A man with wearing dark glasses and a gray polo looks directly into the camera
City of Miami
Miami City Manager Art Noriega in a produced video message from November, 2023.

Updated at 12:30 p.m. on April 13, 2024

Miami commissioners on Thursday chastised city manager Art Noriega over "conflicts of interest" from the business connection between the city and his wife’s family furniture company.

At a commission meeting, Noriega reiterated he had nothing to do with city departments, including his own office, purchasing furniture from Pradere Manufacturing — an expenditure of over $400,000 during his tenure, according to documents examined by WLRN.

But he agreed his office should no longer purchase furniture from the company owned by the family of wife Michelle Pradere-Noriega, where she's a salesperson and director of operations.

"I don't believe there's a conflict," Noriega told commissioners. "I believe that we followed what was expected of me in terms of disclosure and transparency from the very beginning."

The day after the commission meeting, Noriega told WLRN news partner the Miami Herald that the city as a whole will no longer do business with Pradere Manufacturing. He initially promised that his office would no longer buy from his wife's family company, but after prodding from city commissioners, he said the city will no longer have a vendor relationship with the company while he is the top administrator.

"It was discussed in the commission meeting ... by Commissioner Manolo Reyes as a directive and I acknowledged it. The purchasing department that manages the process is also aware," Noriega said in a written response to WLRN via email.

During Thursday's commission meeting, Commissioner Damian Pardo said the fact that Noriega's wife sold furniture that went directly to Noriega’s own office did not seem transparent or ethical.

"Even so, I think this is a very serious conflict of interest and I think a reasonable person just on the outside looking at it would feel that it's serious," Pardo said, responding to Noriega.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes said that Pradere Manufacturing selling furniture to Noriega's office "looks really bad."

"What I feel you should have done is stop the purchasing of your office furniture [from Pradere]. I wouldn't have done that," he added.

READ MORE: Miami City Manager releases incomplete report on furniture contracts controversy

In his presentation, Noriega promised to draw a new line between his office and his wife's family business.

"As City Manager, I recognize the opportunity for improved transparency and clear boundaries regarding any business conducted within the Office of the City Manager. In as such, I will preclude any future dealings with Pradere Manufacturing by my office for the remainder of my tenure as City Manager," Noriega said.

Reyes told him to go a step further and cut the company off from the city as a whole because of the appearance of impropriety.

On Friday, Reyes confirmed to WLRN that this request was acknowledged.

"This is what I asked him during his presentation. I gave him a directive that the City of Miami, while he is city manager, will not do any business with Pradere Manufacturing. He accepted that," Reyes told WLRN.

Noriega, who faced a call for resignation from Miami Commissioner Miguel Gabela, accepted that he knew the purchases from his office were taking place. On Thursday, he also announced he is scheduling an interview with the Ethics Commission about the case.

Gabela told WLRN in March that he felt Noriega was not being forthright about the controversy with his wife's business, and had not adequately informed the public.

Initial report three months after revelations

On the eve of the meeting, the city released its latest accounting of its relationship with Pradere Manufacturing since Noriega became a city manager in 2020 — but the numbers still fell short of the amount WLRN reported after reviewing purchasing records that were provided by the City of Miami.

In January, a WLRN investigation first revealed that Pradere Manufacturing received more than $440,000 in contracts from City Hall since 2020. Noriega’s wife was listed as a salesperson for furniture contracts directly involving in refurbishing her husband’s city hall office, in contracts worth more than $37,000.

Following that story, Noriega produced a long-promised report on the city's purchases last month. But that accounting left out key details, and showed that the city only paid Pradere Manufacturing $228,234. When pressed by WLRN and other media, Noriega walked back the report and said he'd release an updated one with more complete data.

This week's presentation states that the city paid $354,287.89 to Pradere Manufacturing from 2020 to 2023, but it omits supporting data to back it up.

Noriega's first report included a spreadsheet of furniture purchases that WLRN was able to cross-reference with data the city provided in response to public records request. Because of that spreadsheet, WLRN and other media were able to show that report was incomplete.

Without supporting data for this new report, the manager's claims cannot be fact-checked. WLRN has requested the data as well as an interview with the city manager.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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