For saving $1,460 in her property taxes, Doral’s Deputy Mayor Bettina Rodríguez-Aguilera is being closely watched by Miami-Dade officials, with Property Appraiser Carlos López-Cantera saying Tuesday that Rodríguez-Aguilera violated Florida’s homestead-exemption rules.
“Our office found that the councilwoman had committed a violation,” said López-Cantera in a statement to El Nuevo Herald. “This was determined through an investigation we did at the request of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”
The disclosure was like a pitcher of ice water over the city of Doral, where Mayor Luigi Boria expressed surprise at the appraiser’s statement against Rodríguez-Aguilera, who is facing a recall campaign.
“This surprises me,” Boria said. “If [Rodríguez-Aguilera] has done something wrong, she must respond for it. But I am still against the recall because I consider it unfair and illegal.”
Rodríguez-Aguilera did not return several calls from El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday afternoon.
The Miami Voice PAC led by Vanessa Brito organized the recall. Since the collection of signatures for the recall began in March, one of the issues against Rodríguez-Aguilera has been her actual place of residence during the past two years.
Brito says Rodríguez-Aguilera did not live in Doral during the 24 months preceding November’s election, as is required for a person to run for the council.
López-Cantera’s investigation in January established that during 2011 and 2012 Rodríguez-Aguilera had declared a house in Westchester she bought in 2004 as her primary residence.
However, shortly before the city election in November, Rodríguez-Aguilera appeared before a Miami-Dade civil court and said under oath that she had lived in Doral since June 2010.
López-Cantera said that the irregularity allowed the deputy mayor to receive a discount of $50,000 in the assessed value of the house in Westchester, for which the Miami-Dade County failed to collect from her $735.72 in 2011 and $725.76 in 2012.
“The issue is that she told a judge that she lived in Doral since 2010,” said López-Cantera. “Yet, on the other hand, she declared the house in Westchester as her primary residence.”
López-Cantera estimated that the deputy mayor owes about $2,600 due to additional charges for penalties and interest. Still, he said that they have not been able to collect the amount owed.
“The problem is that there is no way to impose a lien on the property title,” López-Cantera said. “She sold the house and does not own any other property.”
Doral City Manager Joe Carollo expressed concern about the investigation.
“I’m intrigued by this investigation,” Carollo said. “This has to be the only case in which the FDLE has been involved in an investigation for tax exemption on a property. If they want to go against Bettina, then they should do the same with a lot of other people.”
Rodríguez-Aguilera took office as deputy mayor in March after Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz was removed from that position. They are political enemies.
Ruiz’s removal occurred at the request of Boria, who claimed he had been the victim of political extortion from Ruiz in a plan to dismiss the current attorney’s office that counsels the city of Doral and appoint a firm that Ruiz supposedly supported. She has denied Boria’s accusations.
Amid the political battle, Boria dismissed Ruiz and Rodríguez-Aguilera emerged as the mayor’s new “right hand” in the council.