Miami Beach

With corruption probe looming, Michael Grieco drops Miami Beach re-election bid

Embattled Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco dropped his bid for re-election Monday, a sudden end to a campaign dogged by a criminal investigation into his ties to a political committee that raised campaign cash from a group of moneyed Beach interests in possible violation of campaign finance laws.

Grieco, who is under a criminal inquiry, announced his withdrawal at City Hall at the start of Monday’s City Commission meeting. It marked the end of a turbulent election year for the commissioner and raises questions about the status of the public-corruption probe into Grieco’s relationship to People for Better Leaders, a committee that raised $200,000 from a group of Beach interests that included well-heeled city vendors, developers and lobbyists.

Grieco did not mention the investigation in his statement and refused to answer questions. He cited “sacrifices” for his family, health and law practice as his reason for pulling out just six weeks before the election.

The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office launched an investigation into Grieco and the committee in late June following a series of Miami Herald articles outlining his connections to the group. At first, Grieco denied any connections to People for Better Leaders. “You can look right into my soul,” he told reporters. But the Herald showed that his handwriting appeared on documents the PAC filed with state election authorities.

With the investigation looming in late July, Grieco backed out of the race for Miami Beach mayor and instead filed to run for re-election to his current commission seat. His complete withdrawal Monday could signal impending action from state prosecutors. The state attorney’s office did not return a phone call Monday. Ben Kuehne, Grieco’s attorney, also declined to comment.

Grieco has not answered the Herald’s questions regarding the committee since June.

“Because of the many sacrifices I have had to make for my family, my clients, my health and my law practice, I have decided this is the right time to join Commissioner [Joy] Malakoff and Mayor [Philip] Levine in retiring from the Miami Beach City Commission this year,” he said. “I am no longer seeking another term.”

The commissioner touted his single commission term as “a time of significant progress and achievements for the city.”

Grieco said he would make no further public statements on the matter. When a reporter approached the dais during a recess, the city’s director of emergency management, Charles Tear, stood in front of the reporter and said Grieco requested that no one be allowed to approach the dais Monday.

A police officer then moved to stand directly in front of Grieco, who had turned his chair away from the audience.

Apart from the criminal inquiry, Grieco might have run afoul of the city’s stringent ethics ordinance. A donor told the Herald in June that Grieco solicited a contribution to the committee himself. The Beach ordinance prohibits candidates and elected officials, as well as those acting on their behalf, from soliciting vendors and lobbyists for PAC donations.

Grieco’s best-funded opponent, Mark Samuelian, witnessed the announcement from the audience Monday. A former candidate who lost a bid for commission in 2015 by fewer than 100 votes, Samuelian said he would be reaching out to Grieco’s supporters.

Rafael Velasquez, also in the race for the Group 2 seat, refused to speculate on why Grieco was dropping out.

“I believe he was a great commissioner independent of any allegations and claims against him,” Velasquez said. “He served the city of Miami Beach well.”

At first, Grieco was running to hold onto his commission seat when he began fundraising last year. After Levine announced in January he wouldn’t seek a third two-year term, Grieco launched a mayoral campaign instead. He appeared to be a strong contender against former state legislator Dan Gelber, a newbie to municipal politics.

On the strength of a populist resumé of legislation during his term, Grieco entered the race as well-liked incumbent. But the focus pivoted to Grieco’s association with People for Better Leaders in early June when two donors told the Herald the committee was raising money in Grieco’s name.

At that time, Grieco flatly denied any relationship with the committee, which is chaired by his friend Brian Abraham. But two separate handwriting analyses — one paid for by a donor to Gelber’s campaign and the other commissioned by the Herald — confirmed Grieco’s handwriting was on a document filed by the committee.

Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas