Miami-Dade County

Affordable-housing developers under investigation contributed to Miami-Dade political campaigns

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

The affordable-housing developers under investigation by a Miami federal grand jury for allegedly defrauding the U.S. government out of tax subsidies have contributed generously to politicians who in many cases had a say in funding the builders’ projects.

The bulk of the campaign contributions from the Carlisle Development Group, its senior executives and their myriad corporate entities, as well as a Fort Lauderdale building contractor, have gone to candidates in Miami-Dade County, where the developers have built many of their low-income rental apartments using public subsidies.

Carlisle, its executives Matthew Greer and Lloyd Boggio, their family members and other business associates, and builder Michael Runyan of BJ&K Construction Services, contributed more than $68,000 over the past decade to Miami-Dade candidates and their political committees, campaign-finance records show.

Most of those donations went to candidates for mayor and county commission. The administration recommends potential projects, which are ultimately approved by the board.

Greer is the son of Evelyn Greer, a former Miami-Dade School Board member and former Pinecrest mayor, and Bruce Greer, president of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s board of trustees.

Though the developers have also worked in Broward, their contributions to politicians there appear to be limited. Broward commissioners also give final approval to funding for affordable-housing projects, but the county has less money to go around than Miami-Dade, which collects a unique surtax on real-estate transfers to fund the developments.

The developers under investigation also contributed regularly to campaigns in the city of Miami, where the mayor and commissioners play a partial role in appointing committee members who approve public loans for affordable-housing projects. The companies and executives have contributed more than $21,000 to city candidates and their political committees over the past five years.

City commissioners sign off on 10 of 13 members to the city’s housing and commercial loan committee, which approves financing for the projects. The mayor and city administrators appoint the remaining members.

The committee, created in 1998, “was designed to take the politics out of the process,” said Alfredo Duran, deputy director of the city’s community and economic development department.

A grand jury subpoena issued in January and obtained by The Miami Herald lists Carlisle and its development entities, along with Matthew Greer, Boggio and Runyan, in connection with the criminal investigation. Prosecutors suspect Carlisle of padding construction costs to obtain more tax credits, sources familiar with the probe said.

The subpoena seeks records for two Carlisle projects built by Runyan’s company in Miami’s Allapattah and Little Haiti neighborhoods. Both low-income rental-apartment buildings, Amber Garden and Villa Patricia, were partially financed by low-interest, multimillion-dollar loans from the city and county governments.

In Miami-Dade, no politician received more in contributions from the developers than Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes Amber Garden, Villa Patricia and several other Carlisle projects.

Edmonson has received more than $19,800 in contributions since 2006 — $11,000 alone as she campaigned for reelection last year. Many of the contributions were made at a fundraiser Carlisle held last year, Edmonson said. Records show the contributions came from more than a dozen corporate entities.

“They have built projects in my district, the same as other developers,” she added. “I’m very appreciative of what they’ve raised for me.”

Edmonson said the political support from Carlisle doesn’t translate into votes on the dais for the company. “They bid for their projects,” she said. “Normally our votes always go with the mayor’s recommendation.”

The single largest contribution went to Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s political committee, Common Sense Now, which received $10,000 from Biscayne Housing Group — a Carlisle partner also named in the subpoena in 2011. BJ&K Construction also contributed nearly $9,000 to the committee between 2010 and 2012.

In Miami, the biggest beneficiary of the developers’ political largesse was Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, whose district overlaps with much of Edmonson’s district. Spence-Jones has received $6,500 since 2008. In the nearly two years she was out of office fighting legal battles, her temporary replacement, the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, received more than $4,400.

The single largest contribution went to Commissioner Francis Suarez’s political committee, The Future is Now, which received $2,500 from Carlisle last year. Suarez is running this year against Mayor Tomás Regalado, who received $2,750 from the developers in 2009.

Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

This article has been updated to clarify that Edmonson said Carlisle held a fundraiser for her last year but she did not say more than a dozen of the developer's corporate entities contributed to her campaign. That information came from public records.

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