Real Estate News

This Mexican politician paid nearly $1 million for a Miami condo. But she wanted to keep it quiet.

A screenshot from a YouTube video shows the 400 Sunny Isles luxury condominium project, developed by Key International Development and 13th Floor Investments.
A screenshot from a YouTube video shows the 400 Sunny Isles luxury condominium project, developed by Key International Development and 13th Floor Investments. YouTube

Alejandra Barrales, the leader of a major Mexican opposition party, paid $990,000 for a condo in Sunny Isles Beach last year, Miami-Dade County property records show — but she doesn’t appear to have disclosed the expensive purchase in a list of her assets.

The luxury, two-bedroom condo is located in a twin-tower development called 400 Sunny Isles that offers views of Oleta River State Park, Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Barrales, who has led the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) since July, secured a $297,000 mortgage on the unit from Eastern National Bank in February 2016, county records show. She bought the condo through a Florida company called Maxba Development that is registered under her name.

Everything I have is a product of my work and in my name.

Alejandra Barrales, leader of the center-left opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)

But Barrales, a former union leader, did not include the property in a disclosure of her assets, according to Univision and Mexican blogger Julio Roa, who teamed up to break the story earlier this week.

Her purchase marks the latest in a string of under-the-radar deals for Miami homes by politicians and financiers from Mexico and other countries. U.S. law enforcement officials say that opaque, cash-driven real-estate markets across the country have become veritable slush funds, enabling global corruption and law-breaking. On Twitter, Barrales has faced a firestorm of questions asking where she got the money and why she failed to declare the property.

“It very much seems that she hid the apartment from the public’s knowledge,” said Alexandra Zapata, the director of education and civic innovation at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a nonprofit group. “That is why people are so angry. They don’t care that she owns an apartment in Miami. That is common [for politicians and the wealthy]. They want to know why she wasn’t open about it.”

Zapata’s group helped lead a campaign that, starting this summer, will require elected officials to publicly disclose their assets to a new anti-corruption agency. Previously, such disclosures were kept private in the government’s hands.

“Mexicans don’t trust our public officials, and there has been a general perception that everyone is corrupt,” Zapata said.

Barrales told Univision that she had saved up enough to pay $693,000 in several cash deposits for the newly constructed condo. On Twitter, she denied failing to disclose her purchase or using illicit funds.

“In my asset declaration form from 2015 as senator and secretary of education, the apartment was properly declared,” she wrote in a series of tweets in Spanish. “The information about my asset declaration is public and can be verified. … All of my assets are public, nothing is hidden in any of the asset declarations I have presented as a public official. … Everything I have is a product of my work and in my name. … There’s no need for an investigation into my assets, it’s enough to look at the public documentation.”

Barrales and the PRD did not respond to requests for comment from the Miami Herald.

A disclosure form filed in April 2016 when she was education minister of Mexico City and voluntarily posted online does not list the Sunny Isles Beach condo.

However, in a revision filed last week, Barrales added the apartment to her list of assets, saying she had previously provided “inexact information.”

It very much seems that she hid the apartment from the public’s knowledge.

Alexandra Zapata, the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness

In the original disclosure, Barrales reported earning an annual salary of roughly $75,000 and an additional $70,000 through “financial activity.” But the bulk of her earnings, more than $506,000, are listed under the category that includes leases, royalties and other income.

In an online statement that called Univision’s investigation “distorted,” the PRD said Barrales plans to rent out the unit rather than live there. Asking rents for two-bedroom apartments at the complex range from $3,400 to $4,300 per month, according to luxury brokerage Zilbert International Realty. (The unit is not currently listed for rent, according to a database used by Realtors to showcase properties.)

Meanwhile, a lien filed against Barrales by her condo association shows that she is not up to date on her monthly maintenance payments. The lien claims that she hasn’t paid the monthly fee of $557.90 in a year and says the association is owed $7,252, plus interest.

$990,000Cost of Alejandra Barrales’ condo in Sunny Isles Beach

Mexico is gearing up for a presidential election in 2018. A major focus has been President Donald Trump and his plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. PRD is yet to choose a candidate for the contest, although Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera is believed to be among the likely contenders.

Mexico pipeline

South Florida is a popular destination for Mexico’s ruling elite.

Several Mexican politicians and financiers have invested in local real estate, and the country trails only Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Canada in the number of home buyers it sends to South Florida, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.

Among the buyers:

▪ Mexican Congressman Bernardo Quezada Salas, who along with his relatives spent $6.3 million on 11 Brickell condos on a single day in 2005. Quezada Salas resigned from government last summer, according to reports in the Mexican news media, several months after the Herald published a story on his condo holdings. His New Alliance party did not respond when asked to confirm his resignation.

▪ Alberto Sentíes Palacio, a Mexican businessman who picked up the nickname “Lord Ferrari” after a road-rage incident involving his driver went viral online. He and his wife spent nearly $1.5 million on South Florida condos. He was sought on fraud charges in Mexico and arrested in Miami in October.

▪ Mexico’s first lady Angélica Rivera, who faced scrutiny after it was revealed that the Mexican-born founder of Citi Bike Miami paid nearly $30,000 in property taxes on her Key Biscayne condo.

▪ Sebastián Rodriguez Robles, a young, politically connected lawyer from Mexico’s poorest state who paid $3.1 million for 13 Miami condos during the housing crisis.

▪ Rafael Olvera Amezcua, a Mexican financier accused in his home country of a $184 million fraud. A $1.8 million unit at Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach is registered under his son’s name.

South Florida has become one of the nation’s least affordable housing markets as foreign buyers drive prices beyond what most locals can pay. The real-estate crunch is cutting into the region’s young workforce, a Herald series on the housing market found.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas

Miami Herald staff writer Kyra Gurney, McClatchy D.C. writer Tim Johnson and Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein in Mexico City contributed to this report.