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Ethics probe: Ast. Miami city attorney steered jobs to fiance's firm

@NewsbySmiley

An assistant Miami city attorney and current judicial candidate steered city jobs to her fiancé’s law firm through a third party and failed to disclose her ties, according to a newly closed ethics investigation.

Veronica Adriana Diaz in 2012 and 2013 hired Horvat Law Firm to conduct complicated real estate and title work for the city of Miami, according to an investigative memo released Thursday. Keri Lynda Horvat received about $7,500 for the work.

Horvat said she had never met Diaz. But acting on an anonymous tip, an ethics investigator found that by giving the jobs to Horvat, Diaz was essentially steering them to a pass-through for Alvarez, Carbonell, Feltman & DaSilva – a firm founded by Diaz’s fiancé, Benjamin Raul Alvarez.

"What the city didn't know at the time - and which nobody appears to have disclosed --- [Horvat] was required to transfer its entire fee to the law firm run by Diaz's live-in boyfriend, Alvarez, under the terms of Horvat's employment arrangement with Alvarez Carbonell," the memo states.

The requirement was triggered, according to the memo, because Alvarez brought the work to Horvat.

The no-bid contracts didn’t violate any purchasing laws, because the Miami City Attorney’s office isn’t bound by the city's bidding procedures for other departments, according to the memo. But the investigator wrote that “the appearance of impropriety is strong.”

“The only reason a complaint is not being filed under the anti-Nepotism provisions of the county code is because ‘fiancé’ or ‘long-term, live-in boyfriend’ are not included in the definitions of what constitutes an ‘immediate family’ member,” the memo states.

Diaz and Alvarez did not immediately respond Friday morning to phone calls and emails. The investigator noted that Horvat effectively performed her jobs for the city, and that she kept her $1,000 fee from her second city contract after being fired by Alvarez's firm.

Diaz is currently on leave from her position with the city to run for an open circuit court judge seat. Her opponent is former Miami-Dade School Board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla.

The ethics commission did not pursue charges against Diaz. But it did refer the investigative file to Miami’s auditor general and suggest reforms in the city’s process for handling outside legal contracts.

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