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Florida Senate candidate: I'll return money from Miami developer under investigation 'if they're guilty'



State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Republican candidate for Senate, is "closely" monitoring a federal affordable-housing investigation now examining the largest real estate developer in South Florida, the Related Group, which gave Diaz and his political committee $5,000 this month.

"There was no way I could have known" about the investigation, said Diaz, who is running in the District 40 special election.

The Miami Herald revealed the investigation on Thursday. The Feds are focusing on the Related Group and its involvement in a low-income apartment building for seniors in Miami’s Shenandoah neighborhood. The publicly subsidized project was developed and built by its affordable housing branch, Related Urban Development Group.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is heading up the investigation, will determine whether the Related Group skewed construction costs through its wholly owned contractor and its subcontractors, and then pocketed money that should have gone toward other county-funded affordable housing projects, sources familiar with the investigation told the Herald.

The investigation is part of a larger federal look into South Florida’s affordable housing industry, which has already taken down two large affordable-housing developers, Pinnacle Housing Group and Carlisle Development Group.

On June 6, Related Urban Development Group cut a $3,000 check to Diaz’s political committee, Rebuild Florida, according to the committee's finance records. A day later, it gave $1,000 directly to Diaz, as did Fortune Urban Construction, Related Group’s wholly owned contractor.

“If they’re guilty of any crime, obviously I will return” the money, Diaz said. “In our system, the premise is you’re innocent until you’re found guilty.”

A self-described proponent of affordable housing, Diaz said like-minded developers have been “very supportive of me.”

Between 2012-13, Pinnacle Housing Group and its partners gave Diaz $2,500, state records show. An affiliate of the group was charged with affordable housing funds theft earlier this year.

Between 2013-15, Related Urban Development Group, Fortune Urban Construction, the Related Group and PRH Investments, Related’s parent group, gave Diaz $3,000, according to state records. Because those contributions were from past campaign cycles, Diaz can’t return them, he said.

Diaz, who is the only candidate in the race to report receiving money from Related Group, is running against two Republicans in the primary to fill the seat left vacant by former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles. Artiles resigned amid controversy in April after using the word “niggas” before two fellow lawmakers and hiring a Playboy model and former Hooters “calendar girl” as consultants.

The primary will be held on June 25, followed by the general election on Sept. 26. Two Democrats and an independent candidate are also running.

This post has been updated

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press