Miami-Dade mayoral challenger Raquel Regalado is getting a bill for nearly $4,000 in unpaid property taxes and fines after a blogger revealed she’d claimed a homestead exemption in her old Miami home while not living there.
The county Property Appraiser Office wrote the two-term school board member a letter Friday demanding $3,981.78 to avoid having a lien placed on the home she co-owns with her younger brother, Jose. The bill was tied to taxes for another property: the one she shared with her husband before the two divorced. Regalado owned the Miami home alone and continued to claim a $50,000 homestead deduction after moving out of the residence in 2012 when the house was heading toward a foreclosure.
Al Crespo, who runs the Crespogram blog that focuses on Miami government and politics, revealed the Aug. 5 Property Appraiser letter on Friday. The action was based on an investigation he posted in July detailing Regalado’s apparent improper homestead deduction. The action from the county Property Appraiser Office comes not only as Regalado’s management abilities are under scrutiny over other personal finance issues, but also as she is citing her role on a county board tied to property assessments as a qualification for office.
In an interview, Regalado blamed the situation on a “messy divorce” and said she thought the deduction was appropriate since she was not claiming the tax break for another property. “I did nothing wrong,” she said. “It was really about the divorce settlement. This was a messy divorce.”
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Though her divorce took effect in 2008, Regalado said the terms of the settlement left her ex-husband with the option to buy the house that they had shared once she left it. But Regalado stopped mortgage payments in 2011, and the home on the 1700 block of Southwest 15th Street ended up heading for a foreclosure sale in 2014. Regalado said no one lived in the house after she moved out of it in 2012. She said she was forced to decide between paying the mortgage and funding therapy for a daughter with autism.
The unpaid-taxes claim from the county adds to the list of questionable financial decisions that the campaign of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says shows Regalado unfit to run the county’s $7 billion government. Those include her lack of a private-sector job, using her brother as a campaign videographer, fines tied to her role as campaign manger for her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, and unusual ownership arrangements with her personal vehicles.
“Miss Regalado has a track record of poor financial management,” said Jesse Manzano-Plaza, Gimenez’s campaign manager. “That is not the type of leadership that Miami-Dade County needs.”
A former lawyer who reported $74,000 in income from a Miami firm in 2010, Regalado has not held a paying job beyond her $43,000-a-year school board stipend since taking her school board seat in late 2010. She did spend four days a week hosting a radio show that brought her enviable air time but no compensation (she gave up the La Poderosa 670 AM show in June to avoid violating federal equal-time provisions governing broadcasters during elections).
In 2012, she paid $5,000 in fines tied to reporting violations when she was the campaign manager and treasurer for her father.
An automobile accident in 2011 revealed the BMW she was driving was registered to the name and address of an aide to her father in City Hall. At the time, Raquel Regalado said she was taking over the car from the son of the aide, Jose Marrero, who earns about $50,000 a year in the mayor’s office.
In a recent interview, Raquel Regalado said the BMW was being leased by Marrero’s adult son until he suffered injuries in a scooter accident and could not make the payments. Regalado said she agreed to take over the payments, though the police report from the minor crash showed the vehicle still registered to Marrero (who was not listed as a Jr.). At the time, Regalado picked up a ticket from the accident as well as one for driving with a suspended license over unpaid traffic citations.
Now, she drives a leased 2015 Hyundai Elantra, but the car is registered to her and her brother, Jose. They live in separate homes, and she said her brother drives a truck of his own. He also receives about $7,000 a month shooting videos for her mayoral campaign.
Raquel Regalado said she makes all the lease payments on the Hyundai, and did not need her brother on the registration to compensate for a poor credit rating from the 2014 foreclosure. Instead, she said the arrangement was in part so that her brother could use the car, and in part so that he could function as a surviving spouse in case she was injured or killed.
“I’m not married,” she said. “If something happens to me, he will be making certain decisions.” As for her brother’s position on her political committee’s payroll, she cited complications from her status as a single mother raising two children, including one with autism. “My life is complicated,” she said. “It’s a lot easier for me to go to my brother’s house instead of a studio.”
As she prepped to challenge Gimenez, Regalado persuaded fellow school board members to name her to the county panel that oversees appeals of real estate valuations made by the Property Appraiser Office. Known as the Value Adjustment Board, Regalado has cited her role there pushing changes in how the county processes appeals as one reason she’s ready to serve as mayor of Florida’s largest county.
Now she’s facing an allegation of either not understanding how the county’s property rules work, or knowingly ignoring them. Each year, Miami-Dade’s Property Appraiser Office mails homeowners receiving the exemption, which lowers the annual tax bill, a notice laying out the requirements for the discount and instructs them to cancel it if the appropriate conditions no longer apply.
Documents posted by Crespo show that the Property Appraiser Office cited Regalado for unpaid taxes in 2013 and 2014, the years between her moving out and the house selling in foreclosure. The taxes amounted to about $2,250, and more than $1,000 in penalties.
Regalado has until Sept. 5 to pay it — or have the ruling overturned — before the Property Appraiser files a lien on the home she co-owns with Jose, her brother. That property belonged to their parents, but the two siblings took over ownership after the death of their mother (and the Miami mayor’s wife) in 2008. Raquel Regalado owns 10 percent of the property.
The original Crespo report also revealed that Raquel Regalado’s current residence, a home she rents, was also benefiting from a homestead exemption, which is restricted to properties occupied by owners. On Friday, the Property Appraiser issued a letter for owner Gema Pampin demanding about $4,200 in back taxes and penalties as well.