A crisis management firm that boasts it can ‘fix the impossible’ has been hired by the board of a collapsed Miami condo building as questions mount over the disaster and its death toll hit 16.
Levick, which is based in Washington DC, has been appointed to handle the flurry of media requests sent to the Champlain Towers South Condo Association over last Thursday’s collapse. The firm’s vice president Maxwell Marucci has been assigned to deal with the disaster.
He told the Miami Herald: ‘The Champlain Towers South Condo Association board has retained LEVICK, a crisis communications firm deeply experienced in these matters, to assist them during this very difficult time.
‘LEVICK has been handling the hundreds of inbound media inquiries from around the world interested in the latest breaking news on this unprecedented tragedy.”
‘By taking over the important communications responsibilities to keep the media constantly informed, it has removed one burden from the volunteer association board members — who themselves are mourning the loss of their loved ones, friends and neighbors — so that they can focus on the critical work of assisting all manners of search and rescue involved in this tragedy.’
The death toll from the disaster hit 18 on Wednesday, with 145 people still missing. Three class-action lawsuits have been filed so far, with more almost certain to follow.
Speaking in the wake of those suits, Marucci said: ‘The board is not comprised of engineers or building experts,’ Marcucci told Insider. ‘They hired experts and they trusted experts, and at no time did the experts ever indicate that there was any imminent threat.’
Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based firm run by CEO Richard Levick, has previously represented clients connected to crises like an unnamed Catholic Church order’s sexual abuse allegations, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the 2000 Florida election recount.
Marucci also told the Herald that the board was made up entirely of volunteers who were also unit owners – one of whom is now among the 147 missing residents.
The board of the collapsed Miami condo building hired a crisis management firm, named Levick, which boasts it can ‘fix the impossible’
The Washington, D.C., firm has previously represented clients involved in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and 2000 Florida election recount
Maxwell Marcucci, a vice president at Levick, has been assigned to the case and will be acting as a spokesperson for the condo association
Levick formerly employed renowned Washington lawyer and spinmeister Lanny Davis, who recently represented President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and was a special counsel for President Bill Clinton.
A previous major client included China Telecom, which paid the firm more than $230,000 for work in 2019 and 2020. Jho Low, the Malaysian businessman accused of stealing more than $4 billion from the Malaysian development fund in the 1MDB scandal, paid the firm more than $50,000.
Another client was Citgo, a U.S.-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA, which paid Levick more than $1 million for work in 2019 in seeking to counteract the negative image emanating from the Hugo Chavez and the Nicolás Maduro regimes.
Lawsuits filed against the board allege that they sat on evidence of the condo’s damages and could have prevented its collapse. In October 2018 Frank Morabito, an engineer, warned the board and chief building official, Rosendo Prieto, of ‘major structural damage’ in the Champlain Towers South building he said would cost around $9 million to repair. Morabito had been commissioned by the residents’ association to look into the building, ahead of its 40-year structural review, due in 2021.
Morabito’s report, released by Surfside officials on Friday, included pictures of what he wrote was ‘abundant cracking’ and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the 12-story building.
Morabito also spoke out on Monday and released a statement saying he recommended the changes three years ago to the condo association – a board of seven volunteers, five of whom were living in the building and one of whom remains missing.
But in November 2018, Prieto told the residents that he had reviewed Morabito’s report and found little of concern. On Tuesday, Prieto was placed on leave from his job as interim building official for C.A.P. Government Inc, where he began working in May this year. He was working to provide building department services to government clients in Doral.
Lawsuits filed against the board allege that they sat on evidence of the condo’s damages and could have prevented its collapse
Search and rescue looked for survivors of Thursday’s condo collapse in Surfside, Miami. As of Wednesday evening 16 people were confirmed dead and 150 people remained unaccounted for
In October 2018 Frank Morabito, an engineer, warned the board and chief building official, Rosendo Prieto, of ‘major structural damage’
Morabito’s report, released by Surfside officials on Friday, included pictures of what he wrote was ‘abundant cracking’ and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the 12-story building
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she would bring the matter before grand jurors
The board had sat on the findings of Morabito’s report for about two years before sending residents a letter in April to let them know the damage was ‘significantly worse’ and ‘accelerating.’
In that letter, she said they were still trying to finalize a loan from Valley bank to pay for the repairs (they tried to get a loan first from Banco Popular but the deal fell through) and that the total cost was more than $16million and the board had just $707,000 in cash reserves, leaving them with a bill for around $15million.
The owners of the building’s 136 units would be responsible for repaying it and each was on the hook for a different amount depending on how big their unit was.
By Tuesday, three class-action lawsuits were filed against the condo board, blaming them for the collapse. The first came less than a day after the collapse and it sought $5million in damages. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she would bring the matter before grand jurors.
If negligence is a factor, those responsible could face criminal charges, such as the third-degree felony murder and manslaughter charges brought in the 1996 accidental crash of ValuJet 592 in the Everglades that killed 110 people.
‘In the realm of crisis communications, you expect to have clients who are in tough situations, wrestling with serious matters, and so it’s not surprising that a PR firm would take them on,’ Evan Nierman, CEO of Red Banyan, a crisis communications firm based in South Florida, told the Miami Herald.
‘Firms have a choice to make when prospective clients come in, and they have to determine whether or not they’re going to take on those clients,’ Nierman said. ‘It’s very easy from the outside to cast judgment on whether or not a firm should say yes or no, when nine times out of the ten, the facts aren’t really known and certainly haven’t been fully explored.’
‘I don’t think that hiring Levick has a negative implication for’ the condo association, Nierman added. ‘It means they are going to get serious crisis communications counsel.’
The outlet also spoke with Ronn Torossian, CEO of the New York public relations firm 5WPR, which also has a Miami office, who said that surviving members of the condominium board are themselves experiencing trauma, adding to the difficulty of handling the onslaught of attention.
‘Every media outlet in the world is looking for a comment. This gives you a central point of somebody who knows how to handle these calls,’ Torossian said. ‘This is a full-time job for multiple people for some time to come.’