Miami-Dade County

Raquel Regalado pays back property taxes; appraiser says no fraud

Raquel Regalado speaks to the Miami Herald Editorial Board

Raquel Regalado speaks to the Miami Herald Editorial Board Aug. 10, 2016.
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Raquel Regalado speaks to the Miami Herald Editorial Board Aug. 10, 2016.

Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado paid nearly $4,000 in back property taxes and fees this week over an improper homestead exemption that a county investigator ruled violated the law but did not rise to the level of fraud.

The back taxes from 2013 and 2014 emerged as a major distraction for Regalado after a Miami blogger revealed the violation earlier this month. Gimenez accused her of homestead fraud during a Sunday debate, and moderator Michael Putney opened the Channel 10 event with a question about the violation. Regalado has also faced robo-calls to voters attacking her for tax fraud.

When blogger Al Crespo broke the news about the back taxes on Aug. 5, Regalado initially suggested complications from her 2008 divorce allowed her to keep the $50,000 primary-residence deduction after moving her and two children out of their Miami home in 2012.

But on Tuesday she paid the full amount demanded by the Property Appraiser Office: $3,991.78, said Robert Rodriguez, a spokesman for the office. Regalado announced the payment Wednesday, and released a letter from a Property Appraiser investigator saying there “was no evidence of intent to defraud.”

Regalado, a two-term school board member, met with staff from the office on Monday, according to the letter. Rodriguez said she provided documents related to her divorce settlement, which gave her ex-husband the right to claim part of the proceeds if the home sold.

“After reviewing these documents, the Office has found that there was no evidence of intent to defraud,” investigator Ernesto Alonso wrote. “The documents further indicate that you did not receive a direct benefit from the homestead exemption; however, a violation still existed.”

Rodriguez said the personal benefit language meant Regalado did not rent out the vacant house where she claimed the exemption. At the time, Regalado had stopped making mortgage payments on the house while she and her children rented elsewhere in Miami. Regalado’s home was sold in foreclosure in 2014.

Regalado serves on a county board that oversees appeals of property-tax valuations by the appraiser’s office, and the Gimenez campaign used her violation letter to back up its criticism of her personal finances and judgment. Regalado cast the incident as unfairly transforming a personal tax issue into a reflection of her ability to serve as the county’s top elected leader.

After issuing its violation letter, the Property Appraiser Office gave Regalado until Sept. 5 to pay the outstanding taxes and fees or have a lien placed on a different home she co-owns with her younger brother, Jose. Rodriguez said with the obligations satisfied, the matter is closed. “It’s paid for,” he said. “And that’s it.”

Regalado said she learned from the media about the Aug. 5 violation letter that Crespo posted that day, about two weeks after an earlier post raised questions about her prior exemption claims. In a statement Wednesday, Regalado returned to criticism that she wasn’t informed first.

“I am satisfied that this matter is closed, and look forward to working with the Property Appraiser to ensure all citizens are given the opportunity to rectify these matters before inappropriate allegations of fraud are publicized,” she wrote. Had “I been informed directly by the Property Appraiser, it would have been promptly reconciled just the same.”

Rodriguez said Crespo happened to file a public-records request in person for any violation letters against Regalado the same day they were created. “The documents were available that day,” he said. “We had to give them.”