Boria said he knows nothing about his children’s investments.
“What they did with the money is their business,” said the mayor, who normally “gifts” his children $13,000 per year for tax purposes. “Once I give them the money, it’s theirs.”
The original Grand Floridian project called for the building of 41 homes. With the acquisition of the adjacent parcel, the Borias and Tovar expanded the project to 66 homes — a move requiring a zoning change on the new land.
The city’s council approved the change on first reading in February; Boria recused himself to avoid any conflict of interest.
In the months that followed, Boria’s tenuous alliance with Vice Mayor Sandra Ruiz disintegrated. Ruiz criticized the land deal for technical reasons, and Boria demoted her to the position of a regular councilwoman, accusing her of attempted extortion to get the city to hire a law firm of her choosing.
Meanwhile, the remaining three council members expressed doubts about the project. In private, they questioned how the city would ensure that building inspectors and other officials didn’t give the mayor’s son preferential treatment. The proposed rezoning was deferred for months.
At the end of May, Boria told then-city attorney Joe Jiménez that his adult children had sold their stake in Grand Floridian.
“He asked me, ‘Now that my son is no longer the owner, can I vote?,’ ”said Jiménez, who days later left his post for a job with the city of Miami Beach.
Jiménez never gave the mayor a legal opinion on the matter.
Tovar said he worries that the project’s connection to the mayor’s family “puts it at risk.”
“It was for that reason that I decided to buy, in the best interest of the project,” he wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald from Venezuela. “Now we hope that this will allow the city council to weigh the merits of the project, separating the political problem that I have nothing to do with.”
Alexander Boria said he and his sister decided to sell “because we thought it was an attractive offer.”
Both Tovar and Alexander Boria would not disclose how much Tovar paid for the land, although Tovar stressed that there was no value added for the potential development.
According to Alexander Boria, the personal loan he and his sister made to Tovar for $3.6 million was part of the negotiated deal. The loan was recorded as a mortgage in Miami-Dade County’s civil court.
“Juan Carlos Tovar asked for a short-term personal loan, guaranteed with several rental properties, therefore avoiding financial ties to Grand Floridian,” Alexander Boria wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
Tovar would not say who has paid for some of the other costs to promote the project, including four lobbyists, an architectural firm, and a publicity campaign.
The project, which is now called IVI Doral, is being advertised in magazines distributed on flights to Venezuela. The company has also set up a phone number in Venezuela to take reservations for the homes, which will cost from $1 million to $2 million.
In Doral, bus bench advertisements for the project say “99% Will Never Live This Well.”
Like her colleagues on the dais, Councilwoman Ana María Rodríguez says she has no major objections to the project itself. But she wants to wait until the Ethics Commission concludes its investigation before taking a final vote.
“What worries me about this are the ethical implications, whether the mayor or his family are directly profiting from this project,” she said. “As public officials, we should not be profiting from deals that we’re also voting on.”