You know that saying about how you shouldn't bring sand to the beach? Apparently Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, might never have heard of it.
That's because Munoz, who reportedly made $18.7 million last year, is being accused this week by the state of Florida of unlawfully taking sand from the beach--in order to shore up the dunes in front of his estimated $6.8 million oceanfront home.
The state's Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Munoz's wife March 28, Catherine Munoz, saying that someone had filed a complaint against them for what's known as "beach scraping," prompting the agency to do an inspection.
"It was evident that sand had been taken from the [public] beach with machinery to create a 'small frontal dune at the base of the original eroded dune,'" the state letter said, according to FirstCoast ABC News.
That's not allowed, apparently--even if your house is really, really nice. It's not just Munoz, by the way; three other neighbors apparently got similar letters and now face similar allegations.
It's a civil investigation, not criminal to be clear, but could potentially result in hefty fines.
Other homes that got similar warnings belong to David Brown, the CEO and preisdnet of Web.com, Chris Aitken, managing director of bank and financial services company UBS--along with a woman named Margaret Conolly, about whom local media weren't able to find anything out.
Additionally, News4JAX's I-TEAM obtained video from an anonymous neighbor that shows "two earth movers scooping sand from the public beach last week and hauling it toward four private homes." (Embedded below.)
So, why steal sand from a beach like this to begin with? Because Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017 wrecked havoc on Florida beaches, and it can take years for dunes to rebuild naturally.
One of Munoz's Florida neighbors says building dunes the legal way, which meant trucking in sand from elsewhere, cost him $28,000. As writer Gary Leff put it on View From the Wing, "Apparently [Munoz] purchased basic economy landscaping and that doesn't come with any free dunes."
The Munoz beach mansion is located on a seven mile stretch of beach a little bit south of Jacksonville, Florida. Public records say he and his wife bought the property in 2011 for $3 million, knocked down the existing house, and built a brand new, 10,000-square foot mansion in its place.
Technically the beach behind the house is public. But while there are paths from the road to the beach, reports say local residents succeeded in making sure there are no parking spaces or restroom facilities--so fewer non-residents can use it.
"The beach, you can look at it, it's in the process of rebuilding, nature's rebuilding it," neighbor Bill Hudson told FirstCoast. "But all things like this do is disrupt the process."
It's funny; before Munoz was the head of United, he was he president of railway holding company CSX Corporation. And in that role, well, ordinary Americans never heard anything about him.
But as the CEO of one of the big U.S. airlines, his every move is scrutinized--as is his company's. They're massive, consumer businesses, in which as my colleague Chris Matyszczyk pointed out to me lately, people are simply trapped.
Meaning: If you need to travel, you need to use them. And you're literally locked in a metal tube and at their mercy for hours at a time.
So when things go wrong, they sometimes go viral--even if, as Munoz said in a speech last week, "It's just the math."
There are hundreds of United Airlines airplanes in the air at almost any moment, and so it's almost the law of averages that things will go wrong sometimes, leading to bad experiences and PR nightmares.
But how about this kind of unforced error, allegedly stealing sand from a public beach to use at your private house? It's not as if Munoz has hundreds of beach houses, right, and this just happens to be the only one with allegations of cheaply ripping off the public?
At least I don't think he has more than one massive beach house.
And I can also surmise that maybe--maybe even, probably--Munoz is simply way too busy to spend time micromanaging how or where the contractor he hired to take care of the dunes actually took care of it.
Maybe he had no idea what was going on. But really. Not the best look for a CEO, is it?
I asked United Airlines if Munoz or the airline had any comment. So far, I have not heard anything, but if they do respond I'll update this article. In the meantime, here's the local news video, showing the houses, the dunes--and the earth movers at work.