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December 19, 2017

Trial set in lawsuit that seeks to toss Joe Carollo from office

Carollo lawsuit


Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo must turn over cellphone bills and credit card statements to a vanquished political foe ahead of a trial set for early next month to decide whether the controversial politician should be expelled from public office, a judge ruled Tuesday.

With a final hearing set for Jan. 5, Judge Thomas Rebull ordered the city’s newest commissioner to respond to a subpoena issued by lawyers for Alfonso “Alfie” Leon, who lost to Carollo in a Nov. 21 runoff election to represent the city’s third district. Leon wants to invalidate Carollo’s victory on the grounds that the commissioner failed to meet a requirement that candidates live in the boundaries of the Miami district they want to represent for at least one year before a deadline to qualify to make the ballot.

The deadline this year was Sept. 23. Carollo, who has lived for years in a Coconut Grove house outside the district, signed a lease for apartment 504 at Brickell Station Lofts on Sept. 22, 2016, just barely making the cut to run for the seat being vacated by his younger brother, Frank Carollo.

But in a complaint filed the day before the election and later amended, Leon argues that the elder Carollo didn’t change his address on his voter’s registration and driver’s license for weeks, proving Carollo actually moved into the third district well after the execution date of his lease. Leon, who said in a text message that he is “preserving the integrity of the election process,” is now pulling the power bills for Carollo’s home and apartment, financial bills to show where he received his mail, and documents from the apartment complex to see when and how frequently he was at the building.

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As housing deadline looms, Florida legislators urge Puerto Rico to formally ask FEMA for help ASAP

Irma evacuees Miami Herald filesWill thousands of Puerto Ricans be kicked out of their temporary housing in Florida next month?

That is the worst-case scenario emerging because the Puerto Rican government has not formally requested FEMA assistance for housing aid for the more than 200,000 evacuees who have arrived in Florida, according to Democratic members of the Florida House and Senate who are raising the alarm. Here is their release:

Florida Legislators Call on Puerto Rican Government to Request Aid for Evacuee Housing Needs in Florida

TALLAHASSEE - Democratic Senate and House members of the Florida Legislature on Monday sent a formal letter asking Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico to request FEMA assistance with housing evacuees currently living in Florida.  More than 200,000 American citizens have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico since September when the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.  Many of those evacuees are staying with family or friends while some are living temporarily in hotels paid for with FEMA vouchers.

The hotel voucher program, known as TSA (Temporary Sheltering Assistance), is scheduled to expire January 15, 2018.  Additionally, many evacuees are looking for apartment or housing rentals but since the Puerto Rican government has not requested FEMA approve the direct lease program to pay rental fees for those evacuees in Florida, no financial assistance is currently available.  Florida already has a shortage of available affordable housing units and without FEMA assistance, local and state government agencies have limited resources to ensure housing options for the evacuees.

“We have been meeting and working with State Emergency Management officials for months, but many of the programs available under FEMA can only be approved if the government of Puerto Rico asks for them to be implemented,  said Senator Victor Torres, of Orlando. “There are tens of thousands of families living in Florida and if just one family becomes homeless due to lack of action by the Federal government or those officials making decisions in Puerto Rico, it is one family too many.”

 Senator Linda Stewart echoed Torres’ remarks. “It’s imperative that we work this out with the government of Puerto Rico,” she said.

Representative Robert Asencio, of Miami added: “These disasters have no quick remedy, yet it is both frustrating and heartbreaking to have to tell Puerto Rican families in South Florida that further assistance may not come due not to lack of resources, but to inaction. It is imperative that we get FEMA support to rapidly and effectively help these families. The time to make that request is now.”

“Puerto Ricans will be here, they’re trying to establish here, they’re trying to work, they’re trying to get their kids enrolled in school, they’re trying to find a safe environment and a place to live,” said Representative Amy Mercado, also of Orlando. “We are failing them if we’re not doing the job here trying to navigate affordable housing funds for their intended purpose.”

 Representative John Cortes, of Kissimmee, agreed: “We must explore every option available to help our fellow citizens get the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

 Photo: Hurricane Irma evacuees, Miami Herald files

December 18, 2017

Federal judge removes himself from FEC lawsuit against Miami ex-Congressman



A Miami judge presiding over a federal elections lawsuit against ex-congressman David Rivera has agreed to remove himself from the case after Rivera said he feared he wouldn't get an impartial hearing unless the case were transferred to a new judge.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola recused himself from the Federal Election Commission's case against Rivera Friday, one day after Rivera filed a motion calling on Scola to transfer the case to another judge. Scola's order, first reported by the New York Times, was published in the court docket Monday afternoon.

Scola had presided over the case since it was filed in July by FEC lawyers, who sued Rivera for alleged election law violations over his role in a 2012 campaign finance scheme to secretly funnel more than $69,000 to a bumbling Democratic candidate running at the time against Rivera's ultimate general election foe, Joe Garcia. With the help of former girlfriend Ana Sol Alliegro, FEC lawyers say Rivera steered resources to the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad in a bid to damage Garcia's campaign before he made the general election.

Sternad and Alliegro both pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Rivera, who has always denied any wrongdoing, was never charged with a crime.

On Thursday, Rivera's attorney, Roy Kahn, argued in a motion that the judge had proved himself biased in 2014 while presiding over Alliegro's criminal case. During the hearing where she pleaded guilty, Scola forced federal prosecutors to name the previously unidentified Rivera as an alleged co-conspirator. While sentencing Alliegro, Scola said "the man should come forward and not let the woman do time on his behalf."

Scola responded Friday that he was unconvinced by the argument. Still, he found it best to recuse himself anyway.

"While the Court has no doubt in its ability to conduct these proceedings in a fair and impartial manner, it is mindful that its comments in a prior related proceeding, could cause “an objective, disinterested, lay observer . . . [to]entertain a significant doubt about the [Court’s] impartiality,” Scola wrote.

The case has been transferred to Judge Marcia G. Cooke.

Gilberto Oliva, patriarch of OIiva Cigar Co. and Jose's dad, dies at age 86

Oliva FamilyGilberto Oliva Sr., the founder of the Oliva Cigar Co. and father of Rep. Jose Oliva, died this weekend. He was 86.

Gilberto Oliva grew up in a tobacco growing family in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, where the family began growing tobacco in 1886. In the throes of the Cuban Revolution, he fled Cuba in 1964 with his wife and young family.

They moved to Spain and then Nicaragua, where Gilberto continued as a tobacco broker. By 1969, he began growing tobacco on his own. In 1975, as Sandinista rebels were dividing Nicaragua, Gilberto and his wife -- now pregnant with their fifth child - moved the family to New Jersey where Jose was born. Months later they moved to Hialeah.

Gilberto Sr. returned to Nicaragua in 1995, where he started his own brand of cigars, Gilberto Oliva. The name would be shortened to Oliva over time. 

It was a scrappy working class life for Jose and his siblings as his father worked on two continents to make ends meet. But together they grew the company to one of the largest in the world of cigars, according to, an online website that focuses on the cigar industry.

In 2016, the Oliva family sold the cigar operation to J. Cortès, although the family retained its tobacco growing operations. Recently, in honor of the patriarch of the family, Oliva Cigars launched two cigar lines named after Gilberto Sr.

In October, Jose Oliva, was chosen by House Republicans to be the next House speaker after the 2018 elections. He has credited his father with instilling in him discipline, hard work and a conservative ethic.

"We’ve been able to see up close and personal the effects of government and what it can do,'' Oliva told the Herald/Times in a 2015 interview.  "My father was born into a free Cuba and saw that taken. He went to Nicaragua and saw a dictator take control."

Jose's business philosophy is a simple one Gilberto Sr. instilled in his children. 

"My dad always said to me do not spend more than you take in and do not buy something that you cannot afford to pay for,'' Jose said. 

There was also no retiring in retirement age for Gilberto Sr. In 2015, he was still spending several weeks at a time in Nicaragua, returning to Miami and then would "go back and do it again,'' Jose said.

Gilberto Sr. is survived by his wife, five children and 14 grandchildren. There will be a mass Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at Our Lady of the Lakes, 15801 NW 67th Ave., Miami Lakes, 33014. Burial will follow.

“This is a very difficult time for the Oliva family. Gilberto Oliva Sr. is the patriarch of our company and his legacy will never end,” Cory Bappert, vice president of sales for Oliva Cigar Co., wrote in a text message to “Please keep the Oliva family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Photo courtesy of

December 15, 2017

David Rivera wants federal judge who once questioned his manhood removed from FEC lawsuit

David rivera


Former Miami Congressman David Rivera wants a judge who once suggested in court that he act like a man removed from a federal lawsuit alleging that Rivera secretly funded a straw candidate to run against his Democratic nemesis five years ago.

Roy Kahn, an attorney representing Rivera in the case brought this summer by the Federal Election Commission, filed an affidavit Thursday arguing that U.S. District Judge Robert Scola proved himself biased against Rivera when he subtly questioned the ex-congressman's manhood during a 2014 sentencing hearing for Rivera's former girlfriend and alleged accomplice, Ana Sol Alliegro.

According to court and campaign finance documents, Rivera and Alliegro covertly steered at least $69,000 into the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, at the time running against Rivera foe Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary for the U.S. District 26 seat. Rivera and Alliegro hoped that bankrolling Sternad's otherwise feckless campaign would hurt Garcia ahead of his eventual general election fight with Rivera, who ultimately lost.

Sternad and Alliegro would go on to plead guilty after the Miami Herald revealed the scheme, which ran afoul of federal campaign laws. Rivera was never charged and has always denied any wrongdoing. Rivera, who is currently a 2018 candidate for Florida House District 105, now faces an FEC lawsuit that seeks to impose nearly a half-million dollars in penalties against him for campaign finance violations.

“Some people would call it chivalry, some people call it sexism — that the man should come forward and not let the woman do time on his behalf,” Scola said in 2014 before sentencing Alliegro to a one-year sentence split between six months she had already spent in jail and six months of house arrest.

Kahn said he doubts Scola, who also famously forced federal prosecutors to out Rivera as a target while overseeing Alliegro's case, will preside over the case "with an objective and open mind."

Rubio a 'yes' on GOP tax bill

Marco Rubio 3

via AP 

The 24-hour saga of Sen. Marco Rubio's tax vote is over.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will vote for his party's $1.5 trillion tax bill. That gives a major boost to the prospects that GOP leaders will be able to push their prized measure through Congress next week.

The Florida lawmaker had said he'd oppose the legislation unless his colleagues made the per child tax credit more generous for low-income families.

On Friday, Republicans said the final legislation would do just that. Lawmakers said the bill would now let low-earners using the credit get up to $1,400 in IRS refunds if they owe little or no taxes. That's up from $1,100 in the earlier version.

Rubio tweeted that the change is "a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker."

Rubio spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said that meant he'd vote yes.


Rubio gets concessions on child tax credit


via @learyreports

Washington tax writers say they have adjusted the sweeping legislation to improve the child tax credit, a demand of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Details have yet to emerge and Rubio's office says he will review the details.

The tax package would double the per-child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The bill originally made a portion of the credit — $1,100 — available to families even if they owe no income tax. Noem says that amount has been increased to $1,400. Rubio said he wanted the $1,100 figure increased, but he did not say by how much.

Low-income taxpayers would receive the money in the form of a tax refund, which is why it's called a "refundable" tax credit.

Background here.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Miami ends its red light camera program

Miami Safety Camera Locations Map_Main 120717


The days of wincing while driving through a Miami intersection on a yellow light will soon be over after city commissioners agreed Thursday to end their red light camera program early next year.

By a unanimous vote, Miami commissioners chose to cancel their 2010 contract with American Traffic Solutions to maintain and operate dozens of red light cameras around the city. The vote gives the company 60 days to wind down its lucrative operations in the city, and allows Mayor Francis Suarez and City Commissioner Joe Carollo to say they kept a campaign promise.

For drivers in the city, the cancellation of the contract means that their license tags will no longer be photographed and reported by cameras perched above intersections around the city, although cameras will still exist elsewhere in Miami-Dade County. Citations running $158 a pop will vanish along with the cameras, but anyone hit with one before the program ends should still expect to deal with it.

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Democratic Senator calls out Republicans, including Carlos Curbelo, for supporting tax bill with Arctic drilling

Carlos Curbelo 3 (1)


Last week, a group of 12 House Republicans, including Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, signed a letter encouraging Republican leadership to pass a tax overhaul without a provision that would allow oil drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

But the provision was included in the Senate's tax bill, and is likely to stay when House and Senate negotiators finalize the bill on Friday. 

On Thursday, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee called out the 12 Republicans for engaging in "pure posturing." 

"It is now clear that the letter from twelve House Republicans opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was pure posturing," Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said. "If these Republicans want to stop their party from turning the refuge into an oilfield, they should vote no. Lip service won't protect the Arctic." 

Six of the 12 Republicans who signed the letter, including Curbelo, voted in favor of the initial tax bill before Thanksgiving.

Curbelo hasn't indicated that he will vote against the tax bill even though he opposes expanding oil drilling in Alaska's North Slope. He is also the co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who are concerned about the impacts of climate change. 

"I don’t think there’s any one provision that would motivate me to deny tax relief for all of my constituents," Curbelo said this week.

Curbelo has been a vocal advocate for the tax overhaul, frequently appearing with Speaker Paul Ryan and touting the bill in Spanish. 

Senate: Special master's report will be out next week, when it's available to public - unknown

Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said Friday that the long-awaited report on the investigation of Sen. Jack Latvala is expected to the Senate president "some time next week." Pending a review by Senate lawyers, namely George Meros of the GrayRobinson law firm retained to advise the Senate, the report will then be made available to the public. 

Betta said she could not give a timeline on when the report will be public. Betta said one issue the attorneys are reviewing is what to redact from the report on the names of people who came forward as witnesses in the investigation. 

Senate legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers filed the formal complaint on Nov. 5 alleging that Latvala groped her, inappropriately touched her in a bar and subjected her to verbal sexual harassment over a period of four years. Her complaint launched the effort by the Senate to hire retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson to serve as the special master, review the allegations, subpoena witnesses to testify under oath and determine if there is probable cause to conclude that the allegations are truthful.

If probable cause is determined, the Senate Rule Committee will then conduct a hearing to determine if they are true. Under Senate rules, Latvala could be subject to an array of punishments from reprimand to removal from office. 

The Senate hired a separate law firm, Jackson Lewis, to conduct a different investigation into allegations from five unnamed individuals who came forward to Politico also alleging sexual harassment by Latvala. That investigation is "still ongoing,'' Betta said. The final report for that probe will go to the Office of Legislative Services, Betta said.