Rosendo “Ross” Prieto previously served as a building official for the town of Surfside, Florida. The town received a report highlighting “major structural damage” at Champlain Towers South community in October 2018, according to government records.
Prieto downplayed the seriousness of the report, according to NPR. The outlet reports Prieto told members of the condo association just weeks later that the building was “in very good shape” and safe.
The Champlain Towers South collapsed early in the morning on June 24th. As of this writing, at least 32 people have been confirmed dead and more than 100 others remain unaccounted for, CNN reported.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The 2018 Structural Report Called for ‘Extremely Expensive Repairs’ to the Condo Tower
The Champlain Towers South Condominium Association hired Morabito Consultants in 2018 to analyze the condo for repairs. It was a standard procedure to get the building’s “40-year Recertification,” as required by the town of Surfside and Miami-Dade County, the firm explained in a news release.
Morabito’s task was to “understand and document the extent of structural issues that require repair and/or remediation in the immediate and near future,” according to the report that was made public by the city of Surfside. Morabito Consultants sent the report to the treasurer of the condo association on October 8, 2018.
The report listed several serious structural issues that needed to be repaired without delay. It also described flooding, water infiltration in several areas and cracks in the concrete. The firm cautioned that if the problems were ignored, the “concrete deterioration” would “expand exponentially.” Morabito added that the repairs needed would be “extremely expensive.” The AP reports the estimated cost for repairs was $9 million.
2. Prieto Met With the Condo Association in November 2018 & Said the Building Was ‘In Very Good Shape’
Prieto met with the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association on November 15, 2018, according to NPR. The outlet obtained the minutes from the meeting and reported that Prieto expressed optimism about the condition of the tower condo. The minutes of the meeting reportedly include that Prieto had reviewed the “structural engineer report” and that it “appears the building is in very good shape.”
The town of Surfside released an email Prieto sent the next day. In the message, he didn’t directly mention the structural report. He wrote the meeting at Champlain Tower South had gone “very well” and that the “response was very positive from everyone in the room.”
Prieto added that “all main concerns over their forty-year recertification process were addressed. This particular building is not due to begin their forty-year until 2021 but they have decided to start the process early which I wholeheartedly endorse and wish that this trend would catch on with other properties.”
NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday spoke with a Champlain Tower South resident, Susana Alvarez, who attended the meeting on November 15, 2018. She told the outlet that town officials reassured them their building was safe:
I want you to know that in 2018, we had a board meeting. And we sat there with the town of Surfside. And the town of Surfside said to us that the building was not in bad shape, that the building was not in bad shape. That is what they said, OK? The structural engineer has been around for a while. We took out $15 million to fix that building at his say-so. No one ever, ever, ever told us that this – that that building was in such bad shape – no one, no one.
It makes me think that the engineer did not properly do his work. I mean, this doesn’t just happen. This was in a matter of seconds, out of nowhere.
3. An Email Released by the Town of Surfside Confirms Prieto Had Received the Structural Report But He Says He Doesn’t Remember Receiving the Report
Prieto received the structural report a few weeks after it was submitted. An email released by the town of Surfside shows he was sent the report on November 13, 2018. It’s unclear when, or if, he read it.
Prieto told the Miami Herald he doesn’t remember receiving the report or the email.
Morabito Consultants put out a statement following the deadly collapse. In the news release, the firm stressed that at the time of the disaster, “roof repairs were underway” at the building. But no work had been done to fix the concrete problems, which the firm had warned would worsen if they weren’t addressed promptly.
Morabito Consultants was not involved in restoration. The statement explains, “Our firm exclusively provides engineering consulting services. We do not provide construction-related services, such as building repair and restoration contracting.” The firm added, “We are deeply troubled by this building collapse and are working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed. As we do so, we also continue to pray for all those impacted by this tragic event.”
4. State Records Show Prieto Has Been a Licensed General Contractor & Inspector For Several Decades
Prieto has been working in the construction industry for several decades. According to public records on the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation website, Prieto has been a licensed general contractor since at least 1991. He received a license as a certified roofing contractor in 1996.
Prieto has also been certified as an inspector since the mid-1990s. He received both “Standard Inspector” and “Standard Roofing Inspector” licenses in 1997. His current “Building Code Administrator” license has been active since November 2006.
Prieto was the assistant director of building and zoning for the village of Miami Shores, Florida, when the Biscayne Kennel Club collapsed in 1997 during a construction project, killing two workers. Prieto told The Associated Press after the deadly dog track collapse in 1998 that inspectors had visited the project several times and “everything was going according to plan.” He added, “From what I hear, this is just a construction accident. Accidents can happen.”
Prieto told the Sun-Sentinel he himself had visited the dog track project on inspections three or four times. ”
5. Prieto Was Working as an Interim Building Official in Doral, Florida
Prieto was most recently working for the city of Doral, Florida, which is within Miami-Dade County. He was serving as an interim building official, CNN reported.
A county document listing “Building Officials” included Prieto’s name for the city of Doral. The list was last updated on May 13, 2021.
A search of the city of Doral’s website also brings up Prieto’s name as the “Interim Building Official.” But he is not included on the “Building Department” home page or on the “Building Department Personnel” page.
The Wall Street Journal reports Prieto has since been placed on leave from his current job.
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