Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco plans to plead to a criminal charge stemming from a campaign finance scandal and resign from office Tuesday, the Miami Herald has learned from multiple sources.
One source with knowledge of the investigation said Grieco, a criminal defense attorney, will plead to one misdemeanor count of accepting a political donation disguised through a straw donor, a violation of state campaign finance law. As part of the plea deal, he will submit his resignation at City Hall on Tuesday morning before going to Miami-Dade criminal court. He will receive one year of probation during which time he will not be able to run for public office. Grieco will also pay the costs associated with the state attorney’s public corruption investigation.
Grieco, a former assistant state attorney, was investigated by the same office that once employed him. He resigned from the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office in 2006 after an ethical misstep — he was accused of using his position as the prosecutor on a high-profile case to promote his side job as a weekend nightclub disc jockey.
Ed Griffith, spokesman for the state attorney’s office, said he could not comment on any ongoing investigation.
Grieco’s resignation, coming a matter of weeks before his term would have ended, will mark a stunning end to the sole term of the populist Beach commissioner whose political star was rising before scandal extinguished it.
In January, he was considered a strong contender for mayor. Now he will step down in disgrace, capping a criminal inquiry that began with his fervent denials that he had any connection to a secretive political committee that raised $200,000 from a host of Beach bigwigs including developers, lobbyists and city vendors.
Grieco, 42, did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
Earlier this year, the Herald reported that the commissioner had ties to that committee, People for Better Leaders; Grieco denied it. Two forensic experts later concluded Grieco’s handwriting was on a form filled out when the PAC was created, prompting the committee’s chairman — Brian Abraham, a close friend of Grieco and former strip club manager — to close the PAC and denounce the Herald’s reporting. Abraham said he had sought Grieco’s legal counsel while forming the PAC.
Meanwhile, the state attorney’s office launched an investigation into the matter in late June. Prosecutors unexpectedly found evidence that Grieco might have orchestrated at least one donation to the committee from a foreign national, according to sources. Sources said prosecutors were investigating a possible felony charge.
Prosecutors questioned Petter Hagland, a Norwegian millionaire who may have funneled a donation to the committee through an unlikely straw donor — Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche, a local luxury real estate broker.
It is unclear if Rodriguez-Tellaheche was involved in the donation that led to the criminal charge. His attorney told the Herald in late September that his client was called in as a witness and was fully cooperating with investigators.
Amid mounting controversy surrounding the investigation, Grieco’s campaign withered. He withdrew his bid for mayor in late July and shifted his efforts to a re-election campaign to hold onto his commission seat. Flanked by about 30 supporters in a public park in South Beach, he told reporters he decided to drop out because of “distractions and political attacks” that put a strain on his campaign and his family.
In late September, as he negotiated a plea deal, he ended his re-election bid as well, this time in a more sober setting. He read a prepared statement at the beginning of a commission meeting, citing sacrifices for his family, his law practice and his health as he dropped out six weeks before Election Day. After reading the statement, he rebuffed a reporter’s efforts to interview him by having a police officer stationed in front of him at City Hall.
Grieco was elected during a wave of change in City Hall in 2013, ushered into office along with Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Joy Malakoff on a candidate slate billed as fresh start for the Beach. Grieco, a first-time politician, distinguished himself with a populist ethic during his term.
Once in office, he built a reputation for being approachable to Beach residents and bullish on a number of constituent concerns — protecting the Beach’s environment, containing crime and reducing traffic. Many residents considered Grieco the easiest commissioner to reach.
“He is the one guy I know on that commission that if you texted him, emailed him or sent him a message on Facebook, he’d get back to you in a couple of hours,” said Tom Richerson, a North Beach resident.
Grieco was immediately considered a serious mayoral candidate after Levine announced in January he would not seek a third term so he could explore a gubernatorial run.
Now, several of his supporters are lamenting the unceremonious end to his four years in office.
“I just hope that this stuff isn’t true,” South Beach resident Ronald Starkman said in an interview with the Herald in September.
On Tuesday, Grieco will join a stable of South Florida politicians who were charged with crimes during their terms in recent years. Former Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman, former Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi were all arrested on public corruption charges in 2013. Bateman and Maroño were subsequently convicted and imprisoned. A jury acquitted Pizzi, who won a legal battle to be reinstated before losing a re-election campaign last year.
According to terms of his plea deal, Grieco will be barred from holding public office for only one year. After November’s election, the next city election is in 2019.