Doral Mayor Boria not charged after ethics probe involving $200-a-month campaign office

Then-candidate Luigi Boria, now Doral’s mayor, speaks inside his $200-a-month campaign office in 2012.
Then-candidate Luigi Boria, now Doral’s mayor, speaks inside his $200-a-month campaign office in 2012. El Nuevo Herald File

In May 2012, Doral mayoral candidate Luigi Boria rented a 1,480-square-foot storefront campaign office for $200 per month, including utilities.

About the same time the campaign leased space at Delia Plaza, the nonprofit Goodwill Industries rented three parking spaces in the plaza lot for a parked trailer, paying $700 a month — more than three times what the Boria campaign paid for a full office with utilities included.

Immediately after Boria was elected mayor, the landlord rented the same office space, not including electric and water, for $3,700 a month — more than 18 times what the Boria campaign paid.

After his attempted firing in October 2013, then-Doral City Manager Joe Carollo — who served as an unpaid, volunteer adviser and strategist during Boria’s 2012 campaign — accused Boria of knowingly renting the campaign space well below market value and not reporting the difference as an in-kind contribution during an open meeting of the Doral City Council. He would later share information with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust during their investigation of Boria.

A sworn affidavit from Carollo, who is currently suing Doral, alleges that he himself told Boria that “he was obligated to pay a fair-market price for the rental space and that $200 per month seemed to be way below market value for this type of commercial storefront in Doral.”

After a lengthy investigation by the ethics commission and the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, no charges were filed against Boria; his wife (and campaign treasurer), Graciela; or Carlos Alaimo, who owns Delia Plaza, the shopping center where the campaign office was located.

From the state attorney’s closeout memo, written in August 2015 after a request from the Miami Herald: “Although the State disagrees with Dr. Alaimo’s characterization of the fair rental value of the campaign office, there was no testimony from any witnesses that Mayor Boria was ever told or actually knew that the rental unit had a market value of more than $200 a month … there was no testimony that the fair market value of that unit was ever discussed with anyone from the Boria campaign.”

Boria denies he or anyone else did anything wrong in the first place.

“The decision by the state attorney’s office speaks for itself,” said Boria, who declined to speak further on the investigation.

Carollo says Boria and the others have been “given a pass on major corruption.”

“There is not a jury in America that wouldn’t convict,” Carollo told the Miami Herald after the state attorney’s office recently released a closeout memo in the case. “This is the kind of thing that destroys the community,” Carollo said. “There is a culture here where people in power are given immunity and corruption is rewarded.”

Prosecutors never asked the Borias to answer questions during the investigation.

Two years ago, Boria told el Nuevo Herald that he was not aware of the details of the office contract and directed all inquiries to his former campaign manager, Sasha Tirador, who later repeatedly told investigators she could not remember details about the office rental.

Despite Luigi Boria’s claim that he had nothing to do with renting the office, his signature, along with his wife’s, appears on the original lease. According to the ethics investigation: “[Luigi] Boria called the offices of Sacred Family Investments explaining that he had spoken to Dr. Alaimo and that he agreed to facilitate a unit at Delia Plaza.”

A month after the Borias signed the original lease for the office, the name of the entity renting the space was changed from “Luigi Boria” to “G&R Strategies” — a private corporation owned by Tirador. G&R Strategies paid rent directly to Sacred Family Investments, the corporation that owns Delia Plaza.

“A cheap rent is not a crime,” Tirador told el Nuevo Herald in 2013. “When a company obtains a contract directly, it has to be at market value … But I was renting the office as a private corporation, and that is legal.”

During the investigation, the ethics commission determined that Boria should have reported $24,700 in in-kind contributions for the office space, not including what the campaign should have paid for electric and water.

In-kind contributions are donations made to a campaign that do not involve direct transactions of money. According to Florida statutes, the responsibility for determining the value of an in-kind contribution lies with the contributor (Alaimo) and not the candidate (Boria). Also, candidates for local office cannot receive an in-kind contribution greater than $1,000 — the limit was $500 in 2012.

According to the state attorney’s office, there is a “knowledge element” as it relates to fair market value. There is no language, however, in Florida Statutes that excuses ignorance of fair market value as a legal defense.

If Carollo’s allegations had been proved, Boria could have been criminally charged with misdemeanor counts of unlawful reporting and failure to report campaign contributions, as well as a felony count of making or receiving an illegal contribution.

Prosecutors believe that Alaimo at the time considered $200 a month as fair market value because the space was vacant. Two other offices in the shopping center were also available at the same time, another witness told state attorneys.

Maraisly Guevara was the property manager for Sacred Family Investments. When she was brought in for questioning, investigators asked Guevara if she discussed giving the space to the Boria campaign for free.

“Yes,” Guevara said in a sworn statement to prosecutors. “I told him, ‘Well, at least they should pay for the electricity.’”

They didn’t.

During the time the Boria campaign occupied the space, FPL charged the shopping center $2,830.41 for electricity in the office — more than twice the total amount the Boria campaign paid for rent. Sacred Family paid the bill, not the Boria campaign.

In her campaign treasurer’s reports, Graciela Boria never stated fair market value for the rental of the space. Also, she did not file the treasurer’s report herself.

Campaign aide Carla Pella filed the reports on behalf of the Borias — another reason why no charges were filed against Graciela, according to the closeout memo.

In 2014, Boria and Alaimo both told Univision conflicting stories about their relationship.

Alaimo said they first interacted in 2012 while he was a Doral city councilman, which Boria has denied.

Boria said they first met in 2013 when Alaimo came to Doral City Hall needing help obtaining a U.S. visa.

Boria also said Alaimo offered to build a hospital in Doral, which Alaimo denounced on Univision as “false beyond all falsehood.”

The mayor also denied any personal relationship with Alaimo but did acknowledge that he had gotten an “attractive deal” for the campaign space.

In the course of investigating Boria’s campaign, an ethics investigator discovered one other possible campaign violation:

“Boria loaned his campaign an additional $1,700 after the election ended because it did not have enough contributions on deposit to cover all of the final expenses that appeared in the final Campaign Treasurer’s report,” wrote ethics investigator Larry Lebowitz.

Prosecutors did not mention the loan — which occured after the campaign had already ended — but it was included in the ethics investigator’s complaint to the Florida Elections Commission for investigation.

This story’s headline has been updated to clarify the outcome of the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office investigation.