Miami Beach

She had a shouting match at Miami Beach City Hall. Now investigators want to know why.

Michael Grieco removes himself from mayoral race

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco held a press conference Monday, July 31, 2017 to announce he is dropping his bid for mayor. Instead, he will seek to return to his current commission seat.
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Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco held a press conference Monday, July 31, 2017 to announce he is dropping his bid for mayor. Instead, he will seek to return to his current commission seat.

Adding to mounting woes for Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco, local government investigators are seeking to interview his city aide, the Miami Herald has learned.

Grieco and the aide, Danila Bonini, had a blow-up at City Hall last month, according to people who heard what they described as a shouting match.

“You’re threatening me,” Bonini can be heard yelling in a grainy recording of the argument sent to the Herald last week. Grieco was also “cursing loudly” during the encounter and threatened to have her dismissed because she refused to work full-time on his now-defunct campaign for mayor, according to a memo written by a city staffer.

Now, investigators with two agencies — the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust — are asking to meet with Bonini this week, according to three sources with knowledge of the requests.

Ethics investigators asked for the memo last week before on Tuesday requesting an interview with Bonini, a City Hall source said. The agencies independently asked to speak with Bonini, who was told she could face a subpoena if she does not voluntarily talk to investigators, the source said.

Bonini did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning. It’s not known if she’s hired an attorney.

A city spokeswoman, Melissa Berthier, declined comment.

Florida law prohibits elected officials from coercing government employees to support political campaigns. Violations are considered a misdemeanor.

People for Better Leaders

Grieco dropped out of the race for Beach mayor Monday, after a series of Miami Herald reports linked him to an outside fundraising group. The state attorney opened an investigation soon after the stories were published. The group — a political action committee called People for Better Leaders — raised money from Beach developers, vendors and lobbyists, a controversial practice because of the city’s strict campaign-finance rules. Candidates on the Beach are not allowed to solicit contributions from certain special interests either directly or through a third party.

For months, Grieco vehemently denied any connections to People for Better Leaders. The commissioner has not publicly commented on the matter since the Herald showed his handwriting appeared on the committee’s paperwork. People for Better Leaders has since pledged to shut down and return donations.

Last week, the Florida Bar confirmed it had received a complaint about the commissioner’s conduct relating to the PAC.

On Monday, Grieco announced his decision to abandon his populist bid for mayor and instead seek reelection to his commission seat. He took no questions but did seem to obliquely reference the scandal.

“Any unintended errors in judgment in my handling of matters not related to my public service as an elected official have been manipulated by the very special interests I have long opposed as your elected representative,” Grieco said in a brief statement read to a crowd of roughly 30 supporters.

He did not respond to the Herald on Wednesday.

In addition to her city work, Bonini also volunteered on the Grieco campaign.

City Hall shouting match

The passionate argument between Grieco and Bonini was recorded by another person at City Hall, who sent the audio file to the Herald late last week. Their words — taped at a distance — are mostly unintelligible over the din of air conditioners, passing vehicles and other ambient noise.

The source said the argument started after Grieco demanded Bonini take a leave of absence from her city job, which pays nearly $69,000 per year. He wanted her to work on his campaign for mayor instead. Bonini refused, saying she wanted assurances his new administration would hire her if he won the election, according to the source. Bonini reported the incident to her supervisor, Betsy Wheaton. In a memo, Wheaton wrote that Bonini feared she would lose her job at City Hall if she didn’t go along with Grieco’s request.

Danila Bonini is an aide to Michael Grieco.

“You have another job,” Bonini can be heard telling Grieco on the tape. “I don’t. ... I need to be taken care of.”

His response was inaudible.

Grieco practices as a criminal defense attorney. His withdrawal from the mayoral race leaves former state Sen. Dan Gelber as the overwhelming favorite. To win back his commission seat, Grieco will have to defeat Mark Samuelian, Rafael Velasquez and Mohammed Islam. Another candidate, Joshua Levy, immediately signaled he would drop out of the race after Grieco stepped back in.

The race’s new dynamic could put real estate investor Adam Walker, a top fundraiser for Grieco and major South Beach landlord, in a tough spot. Election filings show corporate entities tied to Walker gave Grieco at least $16,000 in January.

But in June Walker used corporations to donate $5,000 to Samuelian’s campaign. Samuelian, who lost a close race for a commission seat in 2015, is Grieco’s highest-profile challenger. Reached on his cell phone, Walker declined comment on which candidate he would now favor.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas