Add a new name to the strange cast of characters caught up in the downfall of Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco.
Petter Smedvig Hagland, a member of a billionaire Norwegian shipping-and-oil family, has been contacted by Miami-Dade public corruption investigators seeking to track foreign money they believe was illegally funneled into People for Better Leaders, a fundraising group tied to Grieco’s campaign.
Hagland, 37, might have knowledge of a $25,000 donation to the political action committee, according to sources familiar with him and the ongoing state investigation. Hagland lives primarily in London and Stavanger, Norway. He has invested millions in Miami Beach real estate, although with poor results: He took a bath on one deal and is involved in litigation over another.
The $25,000 donation, made in the name of Miami Realtor Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche, was the single largest contribution People for Better Leaders received. Rodriguez-Tellaheche’s realty firm represented Hagland in real estate transactions on the Beach.
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At the time of the donation, Grieco was expected to compete strongly for the mayor’s chair. Hagland’s interest in pursuing future Beach real estate deals might have led him to get involved with Grieco, sources familiar with his thinking said. Other foreign donors might have been involved, too. The PAC raised a total of $200,000, mainly from powerful Beach special interests.
Foreigners without permanent residency status are banned from contributing to American elections. Hagland is a Norwegian citizen, according to financial filings for U.S. energy companies where he holds stock.
The campaign-finance scandal — sparked after a series of Miami Herald stories linked Grieco to the PAC despite his strenuous denials — could end in criminal charges for the commissioner. Hoping to win favor with prosecutors, Grieco dropped bids for Beach mayor and re-election to the commission after the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office opened an investigation in June. He blamed his exit from political life on the stress campaigning placed on his family, making no mention of the probe.
Hagland’s Miami attorney, Daniel Mazanec, declined to make his client available for an interview. “Neither Mr. Hagland nor I have any comment on the matter,” he wrote in an email Monday.
Mazanec is representing Hagland in a civil lawsuit. It’s not known if Hagland has retained a criminal defense attorney.
Making or accepting a donation in someone else’s name is a misdemeanor under Florida law. Making or accepting two or more such donations is a third-degree felony.
Rodriguez-Tellaheche is cooperating with prosecutors, his attorney said. So is the PAC’s chairman, Brian Abraham, a former strip-club manager and close friend of Grieco’s.
As has been Grieco’s policy since the Herald showed that his handwriting appeared on the PAC’s paperwork, the commissioner did not respond to a request for comment. He earlier told the Herald he had nothing to do with People for Better Leaders.
“You can look right into my soul,” he said.
Hagland’s personal wealth is estimated at $90 million. The Norwegian media describes him as one of the heirs to the Smedvig family fortune, one of the country’s largest. The Smedvigs made their money in shipping before selling a drilling rig business for more than $1.5 billion.
Money in the sand
Rodriguez-Tellaheche, the Realtor in the middle of the scandal, has represented Hagland in at least two deals through his Coconut Grove-based firm, Prestige Realty Group.
In 2014, a company registered to Hagland paid $9.4 million for a home on Palm Island, which he then tore down hoping to build and sell a mansion at a profit. But his plans fell through and last year he sold the empty lot to another developer for $9 million.
Hagland is also suing a former business partner, Jocelyn “Joe” Fournier, over the $1.45 million purchase of a home on Di Lido Island in 2014. In Miami-Dade court filings, he said Fournier failed to pay back a $600,000-plus loan, allegedly struck with an oral agreement. Hagland’s attorneys are seeking to depose Rodriguez-Tellaheche in the case, which was filed in March.
Attorneys representing Fournier — the star of a British realty TV show called Million Pound Party People — say Hagland’s money was a payment, not a loan, and that no such oral contract existed.
The home was rented for $7,000 per month.
Fournier played professional basketball in Europe and is now a boxer and nightlife entrepreneur, according to media profiles. He trains at the 5th St. Gym in South Beach.
His social media presence glitters with photos of him socializing with celebrities including Paris Hilton, rappers Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, actor Jamie Foxx, NBA star Jimmy Butler and Manchester United coach José Mourinho.
Fournier also has connections to Grieco.
Grieco, a criminal defense lawyer, served as the registered agent for the company Fournier used to buy the Di Lido home. And Fournier is friends with one of the PAC’s top contributors, British entrepreneur Sean Yazbeck, who gave more than $13,500. In an Instagram post, Fournier thanked Yazbeck for flying to the Dominican Republic to see his first professional fight.
An attorney for Fournier, Benjamin Brodsky, declined to comment.
Yazbeck, a former winner of Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice, has not responded to requests for comment since the Herald first called him in June.
Hagland’s family is fabulously rich.
The Smedvigs’ net worth was calculated at more than $1 billion, according to Britain’s Sunday Times. Hagland studied economics at the University of Cambridge and is the nephew of family patriarch Peter Smedvig, a private-equity investor, according to reports in the Norwegian press.
Hagland is also a major investor in a Houston-based oil-and-gas company, Dome Energy. The firm has seen its stock price tumble from $12.50 two years ago to 68 cents in October. It is traded on a Nasdaq exchange based in Stockholm. Hagland sits on the board. Among his other investments are bars and restaurants in London.
His Facebook profile includes discussions of a beach volleyball tournament for fashion models in South Beach and a photograph of pheasant hunting, a popular sport in the United Kingdom. It also shows that he is friends with Grieco.