ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SEPT. 15 2010

Candidate has ties to rival's manager

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

He has no campaign website yet. He has not reported raising a dime from any apparent donors. And his Tea Party affiliation is news to Tea Party activists in Florida who say they've never heard of him.

But Roly Arrojo says he's serious about his run for the 25th Congressional District. And he says he's absolutely not a ringer in the race that features heavyweights state Rep. David Rivera, a Republican, and Joe Garcia, a Democrat -- despite ties to Garcia's campaign manager.

Rivera's campaign has raised questions about whether Arrojo is being planted by Garcia to ride the tea party-movement wave and siphon Republican votes in the November election, which also has a fourth candidate, the Whig Party's Craig Porter, and is expected to be tight. Garcia's campaign denies any connection.

In an e-mail to the Miami Herald, Arrojo, whose full name is Jose Rolando Arrojo Jr., called the notion "nonsense."

"No one asked me to run for Congress, but hundreds of people have sent me emails of support, " he wrote. "I am running for Congress because voters deserve an alternative to the same ol' same ol' from career politicians."

The contest for the district, which stretches from Homestead to Doral and west to near Naples, is key for both national parties: The Democrats have targeted the seat as a potential pickup, while Republicans aim to hold on to it in their bid to wrest control of the House.

In a review of public records, The Herald found Arrojo and Jeffrey Garcia, Joe Garcia's campaign manager, listed as managing members of Project Mercury, a Miami Beach-based real estate management and procurement company registered in Florida in 2005. Jeffrey Garcia, who is not related to his boss, resigned from Project Mercury.

Miami-Dade County records also show Garcia owned property in Miami's Upper Eastside with Arrojo and his wife, Michelle. The trio purchased the property for $775,000 in 2005 and sold it for $256,750 in May.

Garcia said he and Arrojo know each other from their days at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and that, along with other classmates, they took part in Project Mercury to invest in real estate -- a costly venture that did not end well.

"We're friends, but I wouldn't say we're best friends, " Garcia said. "Joe knows we're friends. Joe has never met him before in his life."

Jeffrey Garcia added that he has not spoken with Arrojo about the congressional race: "I've not put him up to this, " Garcia said. "I've not asked him to do this.'

SIMILAR ACCOUNT

Arrojo gave a similar account of his relationship to Garcia.

"Jeffrey is a friend and we were part of an investment that went sour when the housing market crashed, " Arrojo wrote. "We have been trying for sometime to terminate and close out that deal. I have not spoken to him about my campaign as he is on the left and would not likely support me."

He has not done much campaigning, Arrojo said, because he has been traveling. "I hope to have a website soon and will reach out to voters in the coming months, " he wrote.

Liliana Ros, a Republican state committeewoman, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission arguing that Arrojo has not submitted periodic campaign finance reports, as required when a candidate spends more than $5,000. She said she feared Democrats recruited Arrojo to run in the race. "That's the way it looks, " she said.

An FEC spokeswoman said the agency received Ros's complaint on Tuesday. In his email to The Herald, Arrojo said: "I have spoken with the FEC several times and those issues are all resolved."

Rivera's campaign responded to questions on the matter with a written statement: "We too have heard rumors and theories about this candidate and his motivations and true backing, but we cannot comment with any certainty, " communications director Leslie Veiga said. "But you may want to ask Joe Garcia if he knows him or if anyone connected to his campaign knows him."

Though Arrojo has not submitted any campaign finance reports, state elections records show he paid the $10,440 candidate qualifying fee. He has also not filed financial disclosures with the House, which can fine candidates $200 if they send in the paperwork -- due last May 15 -- more than 30 days late.

Arrojo -- as "Jose Rolanndo Arrojo"-- first submitted a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on July 13 as a Democrat, though his earlier filing with the state identified him as a Tea Party candidate. In FEC records, Arrojo appears as a Tea Party candidate in a Sept. 7 committee organization statement.

Arrojo was a registered Republican until switching his party affiliation to the Tea Party in April, according to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections.

'FRUSTRATED'

"I joined the Tea Party because I think both major parties are full of it, " he wrote. "I am frustrated like others that both sides are bought and paid for by special interests. Anything is better."

Arrojo added that he was not recruited by and does not have the backing of the Florida Tea Party.

"I am not interested in being part of a political machine, " he said.

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