In the Florida ethics case, the commission first began investigating Rivera in 2010, following complaints triggered by Miami Herald articles about discrepancies in Rivera’s financial disclosure reports. Ethics investigators suspended their probe when the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office launched a criminal investigation of Rivera’s finances and the Magic City deal.
Miami-Dade prosecutors dropped the probe in April, saying the statute of limitations and toothless election laws prevented prosecution. When the criminal probe ended, the ethics commission then resumed its investigation, said Kerrie Stillman, a commission spokeswoman.
“We don’t choose the timing of our investigations,” Stillman said.
In a flurry of television interviews Wednesday afternoon, Rivera claimed the case was rammed forward by the ethics commission’s chairwoman, Fort Lauderdale attorney Susan Horovitz Maurer, a Democrat. The commission is comprised of five Republican members and four Democrats.
The commission also accused Rivera of using campaign funds for personal use, relying on the FDLE’s finding that Rivera used campaign donations to pay off expenses on his personal credit cards. Rivera’s lawyers argue that the credit-card payments were intended to cover past campaign expenses that Rivera paid personally. Rivera has said that he’s still owed $75,000 for campaign costs he paid out of his own pocket.
Rivera also filed false or incomplete financial disclosure forms between 2005 and 2009, the commission found. Investigators said Rivera should have reported the Magic City payments through Millennium as income, and he also failed to report some real estate and a small number of stock holdings.
In addition, Rivera claimed he received income from phantom sources. For several years, Rivera said he worked as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. But USAID told The Herald and FDLE investigators that the agency never hired Rivera or his company.
Rivera’s lawyers told the ethics commission that Rivera did “international public diplomacy” work through an aid organization that he believed was paid through USAID. However, neither Rivera nor his attorneys have named this organization, and FDLE agents found no evidence of any such income during the investigation of Rivera’s finances.
Several polls, including one conducted by Republicans, show Rivera trailing Garcia, whom Rivera defeated in 2010.
Rivera’s ethics charges are “embarrassing to our entire community,” said Abel Iraola, a spokesman for the Garcia campaign. “Hopefully after Nov. 6 we can turn the page on Rivera’s scandals and get back to helping South Florida’s residents.”
Rivera has decried the ethics probe as politically motivated, noting that it was sparked by a complaint filed by attorney William Barzee, a frequent Garcia campaign donor.
A second complaint was filed with the ethics commission by Jackson “Rip” Holmes, a Coral Gables gadfly and occasional political candidate once prosecuted for threatening Jeb Bush in 1988.