September 10, 2014

As feds draw closer, David Rivera's confidante to be sentenced today


The federal investigation into former congressman David Rivera takes another major step today when his close friend and political ally is scheduled to be formally sentenced for her role in allegedly helping him break campaign finance laws.

Ana Alliegro last month made a surprise admission of guilt in open court and named Rivera as the mastermind of the 2012 scheme to steer more than $81,000 to a political unknown to help fund fliers and other items to campaign against the Republican’s rival, current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

“Those fliers were designed by Ana Alliegro [and] David Rivera,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mulvihill said in court, implicitly citing prior statements Alliegro had made to prosecutors.

Before that disclosure in court, Rivera had denied wrongdoing and falsely claimed he was never under investigation. Rivera couldn’t be reached.

Court records and testimony indicate that Alliegro has told authorities that Rivera not only set the conspiracy in motion, but he also helped her flee the United States to Nicaragua when she was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors instead.

Alliegro in March was informally extradited to the United States and has been in jail ever since. Now that she’s cooperating, Alliegro could be sentenced to just six more months in jail, or even house arrest.

Alliegro is the second conviction in the case. Her co-conspirator, no-name former Democratic candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in 2013 for accepting the illegal campaign contributions and making false statements about them when he ran as a Democrat in the 2012 primary against Garcia and others.

Garcia won that race and went on to wallop the scandal-plagued Rivera in the general election. In this election, however, federal investigators are now examining whether Garcia's former top consultant and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation to the congressman) helped prop up yet another ringer candidate two years before in what appears to be a pre-cursor to Sternad's case.

Rep. Garcia has denied wrongdoing, said he'd cooperate with prosecutors and no witnesses have said he's culpable -- a stark contrast to Rivera's case in which two campaign vendors told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald that the Republican was involved in the 2012 campaign-finance scheme from the start. Based on the Herald reports, the FBI began examining the case.

With the two convictions and what appears to be a wealth of evidence and testimony against Rivera, Miami’s political and legal worlds have been abuzz with word of Rivera’s imminent indictment.

But Rivera, who has survived a prior federal investigation and a separate state investigation into his finances, has avoided indictments in the past. A Tallahassee judge, however, recently sided with state ethics commission prosecutors and found that he broke state ethics laws over how he managed campaign and taxpayer money as a state legislator.

Rivera is appealing. The ethics commission has yet to rule on the case.

But voters have rendered their verdict.

Rivera tried to mount a comeback to run against Garcia this year. But the one-time political power broker, nagged by scandal and his repeated misstatements reported in the press, came in fourth place in a five-way GOP primary on Aug. 26.

Rivera received just 2,209 votes – which is 647 less than the no-name Sternad received just two years before when his campaign was propped up by illegal money.

August 15, 2014

At Florida International University, Miami-Dade lawmakers are graduation mainstays


No, that wasn’t an official meeting of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation at FIU earlier this month — it was just graduation ceremonies. But there certainly were a lot of lawmakers there.

Spread out over the first week of August were five FIU summer commencement ceremonies — with four of them featuring local lawmakers as the commencement speaker. Local state Sen. Anitere Flores was the first to deliver a speech, followed by state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz later that day, and state Reps. Jeanette Nuñez and Erik Fresen the following day.

These are the same lawmakers who make funding decisions regarding FIU every year. Asked if the university was trying to cozy up to lawmakers, FIU spokeswoman Madeline Baro said the legislators actually gave really good speeches, and “we have a great relationship with the Dade Delegation.”

Flores, who is both an FIU grad and previously worked for the university, told graduates that her mom was part of FIU’s first graduating class. She expressed hope that one of the graduates in attendance might discover the cure for cancer, or be the one “that figures out how for it to not to take an hour to get from Kendall to downtown.”


July 15, 2014

Former Florida House candidate sues to get back on the ballot

Miami Beach publicist Laura Rivero Levey isn’t giving up her bid for the Florida House just yet.

The Republican was disqualified from the District 113 race earlier this month, after a check she submitted to the Department of State bounced.

Without any other opposition, incumbent Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, was automatically re-elected.

But Levey says the bank is responsible for the mishap — and the bank accepts the blame. Levey is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner to have her candidacy reinstated.

"I hope I get back on the ballot," she told the Herald/Times. "It wouldn’t be fair to my constituents if they were not given a choice."

Read more here.

July 14, 2014

Court: Diaz de la Portilla not in contempt in divorce and dog dispute

From the News Service of Florida:

In a dispute that stemmed from what judges called a "spat" over family dogs in a divorce, a state appeals court Monday said former state lawmaker Alex Diaz de la Portilla should not be held in criminal contempt in the long-running case.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal issued a 16-page ruling in the case, which involved Diaz de la Portilla's failure to turn over one of two dogs in 2011 to his now-former wife, Claudia Davant. The former lawmaker was held in criminal contempt for failing to appear at court proceedings. But the appeals court found that a "key missing element" in the case was whether Diaz de la Portilla was notified that he was required to attend court proceedings but failed to do so without an excuse.

"Here, no question exists that Diaz de la Portilla had been ordered to appear in the trial court; but nothing shows that he was notified personally of the trial court’s order and, if so, his reasons for not appearing, which creates a due process problem,'' said the appeals-court ruling, written by Judge Scott Makar and joined by judges Brad Thomas and Stephanie Ray.

Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, served in the Senate from 2000 to 2010, after six years in the House. His former wife is a longtime lobbyist. The appeals court ruling said the former spouse reached a settlement agreement in December 2011 that included Diaz de la Portilla receiving both dogs.

April 03, 2014

Senate panel approves MDX shakeup

A local agency that defied opponents by setting new tolls for Miami-Dade County’s busy Dolphin Expressway is caught in the crosshairs of the Florida Legislature.

Two South Florida lawmakers want to reshape the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, better known as MDX, and require the county commission to sign off on toll hikes.

The Senate version (SB 772) won the approval of the Senate Transportation Committee in a tense 6-4 vote Thursday.

“We’re trying to bring some control to these toll increases,” said Sen. René García, the Hialeah Republican sponsoring the bill along with Republican Rep. Jeanette Nuñez of Miami.

But in seeking more expressway control, the bills filed by García and Nuñez have caused the agency to delay road projects, said MDX’s executive director, Javier Rodriguez. MDX has held off on bidding a Dolphin Expressway road-widening project, and it’s waiting to see the fate of the bill before seeking $560 million in bonds for new projects throughout the county.

On Monday, Rodriguez also informed the state that the agency might not be able to make an annual $25 million payment to Florida for construction on the interchange between the Dolphin and Palmetto if the agency’s bonding was disrupted.

Read more here.

March 13, 2014

South Florida mayors visit Tallahassee to sign tri-county compact


Spotted in Tallahassee: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick.

The three elected officials were in the Florida Capitol on Thursday to sign a tri-county "legislative priority compact." The document states their intent to work together on state legislation with regional importance. 

Gimenez pointed out that the three counties have clout in Tallahassee.

"Sometimes, we felt that what happens here in Tallahassee is that we are divided and conquered," he said. "If we actually stuck together, we would have a tremendous block and the ability to bring the things that we need in our counties -- in our region -- to the people that we represent."

Rep. Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat, agreed.

"We do have a wonderful opportunity to work together," he said. "We can leverage a tremendous amount of voting in the entire Legislature."

This year's priorities include regional transportation projects; increasing the available number film industry tax credits; making sure enterprise zones are reauthorized; and funding for coastal flooding, beach restoration and the Everglades.

The compact represents the first time the three counties have joined forces in Tallahassee (formally at least) since 2003, when they worked collaboratively to created the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.


March 11, 2014

State House candidates raise big bucks in February

If campaign finance reports are any indication, at least two Florida House races are heating up.

State Rep. Erik Fresen, who is running for reelection in House District 114, raised $93,240 in February, state elections records show. His top contributors included charter school companies, education consultants, South Florida businesses, the state manufacturers association and the safety net hospitals political committee.

All told, Fresen has raised $260,239 for his reelection campaign.

"Given how much my opponent raised out of the gate, I figured I would maintain my competitive advantage," Fresen said.

Democrat Daisy Baez took in nearly $50,000 in the three months after she announced her candidacy. 

Her February numbers were more modest. Her total haul for the month, $8,506, included $1,000 contributions from the Lucida Treatment Center in California and Coral Gables art gallerist Sergio Cernuda.

Still, Baez's $81,445 total campaign war chest is nothing to sneeze at.

A third candidate, Republican Amory Bodin, has not raised any money.

The candidates in the competitive District 112 race also had a busy February.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, raised $24,500, state records show. So far, he has collected $117,976 for his campaign.

Republican candidate Daniel Diaz Leyva, meanwhile, picked up $10,622 in contributions last month, increasing his total to $141,762.

February 27, 2014

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz named among rising conservative stars


 For the second year in a row, a state lawmaker from Florida has been named one of 10 rising conservative stars under 40.

This year, American Conservative Union is recognizing Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, of Miami.

Diaz will be honored at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins on March 6 in Washington, D.C.

"Being selected for this honor is an amazing opportunity to showcase that conservative solutions advanced by Republican members of the Florida legislature can serve as a model to address our country's very real issues," he said.

Last year's rising stars included Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The Wesley Chapel Republican used the platform to oppose a federal expansion of Medicaid.

"Here's the bottom line: It's time for the states to take a stand," Weatherford told the crowd of conservative activists.

Diaz will have the opportunity to speak on March 8. He plans to talk about diversity and the Republican Party, he said.

"It's a huge platform," he said. "I will talk a little bit about who I am, where I come from, and how I see Hispanics playing a role in the future of the party."

While the list of all 10 honorees has not yet been released, Diaz said he would not be surprised to see another Floridian make the final cut.

"There are a lot of talented people in this state," he said.

The list of speakers also include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida; and Donald Trump.

February 17, 2014

Bill would extend subsidized healthcare coverage to immigrant children

Since she moved to Central Florida three years ago, Severiana Novas-Francois has been unable to take her daughters to the doctor.

The reason: Children born outside of the United States must wait five years before they qualify for the subsidized health insurance known as Florida KidCare.

Novas-Francois’ children were born in the Dominican Republic, her home country. “I’m a legal resident of the United States [and] my kids [are], also,” she said. “We applied a couple of times for KidCare. They denied us.”

This year, state lawmakers will consider opening KidCare to families like hers — legal residents with uninsured children — by eliminating the five-year waiting period.

The proposal, by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, would help about 26,000 children in Florida, according to estimates from the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

Read more here.

January 23, 2014

Will the Fresen ethics saga come to an end on Friday?

Will Friday be the day the state Commission on Ethics ends its ongoing feud with state Rep. Erik Fresen?

The saga dates back to December 2012, when the commission determined that Fresen had failed to properly report his income and liabilities on his annual financial disclosure.

Fresen conceded there had been some mistakes and amended the forms.

But even after Fresen reached an agreement with ethics commission advocate Diane Guillemette in October, the commission wasn't ready to move on.

The commissioners were irked that Fresen had never paid a $1,500 ethics fine assessed to him in 2003. (The penalthy was the result of his not filing a financial disclosure while working as a legislative aide the year before.)

Fresen said he had no knowledge of the fine until 2012, when was no longer required to pay.

Ethics commissioners wanted Fresen to cut a check as a show of "good faith."

Fresen refused.

When he failed to pay by December, the commission rejected his stipulation with the chief advocate, and likened the situation to bank robbery.

Fresen's attorney J.C. Planas and Guillemette will return to the commission on Friday with a revised version of the agreement. The new agreement will note Fresen's refusal to pay the $1,500 fine, Planas said.

Planas stressed that the commission has no authority to collect the fine.

"There is nothing for them to do but accept the stipulation and move it on to the House," Planas said. "Hopefully, the executive director has informed the commissioners of the limited options before them."

The commission could, however, reject the stipulation for second time.

That move would likely prompt the Division of Administrative Hearings to get involved.