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Paella-gate: How the tasty dish led to a criminal campaign investigation in Miami.

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Criminal investigators in Miami are hot on the trail of paella.

Over the past three weeks, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has been sniffing out the story behind thousands of dollars in food and drinks purchased by Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo from a Little Havana restaurant. Carollo paid for the food from an office discretionary-events account and his staff hand-delivered the food last month to senior centers on the eve of a special election.

There's no mystery behind what happened to the hundreds of pounds of yellow rice, pork, plantains and corn. No doubt, the enormous helpings of arroz campesino were delicious.

But prosecutors want to know if Carollo purchased the food and drinks from Paella y Pa Ti with public money as part of a delectable scheme to covertly cater campaign events for Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a former state senator who was running at the time for county commission. If Carollo did, it would be a violation of state laws that prevent elected officials from using public money to finance political campaigns — and a problem both for the commissioner and the candidate.

"There's not a shred of truth to it," said Diaz de la Portilla, who came in third out of four candidates in the May 22 election.

An only-in-Miami caper mixing traditional Cuban cuisine, campaigning and conspiracy, "paellagate" began as Carollo's office hosted events at comedores in Little Havana ahead of the general election in Miami-Dade County's fifth commission district. The probe has led to a political food fight, and rumors that it was someone in Carollo's own office who dished on him.

Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the state attorney's office, declined to comment, citing an office policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of ongoing investigations.

But Carollo's office records — requested two weeks ago and provided to the Miami Herald on Monday — show he spent $3,702.72 on 525 servings of "Farmer's paella," salad, drinks, plates and utensils to cater gatherings planned the following week over three consecutive days at Myers Senior Center, Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center and Metropolitan Senior Center.

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