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Homestead mayor settles ethics complaint

More than two months after the Homestead general election, Mayor Jeff Porter has settled an ethics complaint stemming from the heated race.

Mark Bell, who ran against Porter for the mayoral seat and lost, complained to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust about a campaign mailer funded by Porter.

The ad depicted a mock $25,000 check made out to Bell, 57, and his wife, County Commissioner Lynda Bell, and said the money was a “gift” to the Bells from Homestead taxpayers. The flier also said the Bells “gamed the system and received a BIG FAT CHECK.”

Bell’s complaint, filed by attorney J.C. Planas, was based on a county law that says a municipal election candidate is not allowed to publish an untrue statement “with actual malice” about his opponent or his opponent’s family that will bring “hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”

Porter and his attorney Joe Geller have maintained that the ad was accurate, but nevertheless chose to settle.

“It just didn’t make any sense to continue to fight this at this point,” Geller said. In the settlement “there’s no admission of guilt, there’s no reprimand and no fine. We consider that a reasonable outcome.”

Porter pleaded no contest and agreed to accept a “letter of instruction” in the case, according to the ethics commission.

In October, the ethics commission had found probable cause to continue investigating the issue. Geller told the Herald at the time that the county law has been interpreted in a way that constitutes “prior restraint on political speech.”

“It will chill anyone from sending any political ad ever. That’s unconstitutional,” he said.

Bell and Planas have said that the ad lied because the money was a grant and not a gift.

Homestead city records show the money was a grant from Homestead’s Community Redevelopment Agency awarded for the upgrade of The Redland Hotel, which Mark Bell owns in downtown.

“The money goes to the building, it doesn’t go to people,” Bell said Friday. “I can’t put the $25,000 in my pocket.”

According to the settlement, Porter neither admits nor denies guilt, and he is to pay the ethics commission $350 for costs the agency accrued for the investigation.

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