Michael Grieco pleads ‘No Contest’ at Miami-Dade County Court
Michael Grieco ended his term as Miami Beach commissioner Tuesday morning when he submitted his resignation at City Hall before pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge stemming from a campaign finance scandal.
Grieco, a popular commissioner once a competitive candidate for mayor, emailed his resignation at 8:06 a.m. to the city clerk. Two hours later, he appeared in Miami-Dade County criminal court to plead no contest to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of accepting a campaign donation made in the name of another. Grieco will serve one year of probation, during which he will not be able to run for office. He must also pay $6,000 to cover costs of the investigations by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.
Grieco will be able to terminate his probation in six months if he takes a government class on campaign finance regulations and meets the other conditions of his probation. Judge Samuel Slom withheld adjudication as part of the deal, meaning that Grieco will not be convicted of a crime. A no contest plea means the defendant accepts the sentence but does not admit guilt.
The first-time commissioner, a criminal defense attorney, is no stranger to the court. But this time, he was in the role of the accused. He refused to take questions from the media after Slom approved the deal he had cut with prosecutors. His attorney, Ben Kuehne, spoke on his behalf and deflected blame for his client’s actions, saying the donation had been made by two friends.
“Michael Grieco has always tried to do the right thing,” Kuehne said, “He never intended to have any unauthorized contributions made to a political committee ... when it became apparent that two friends of Mr. Grieco failed to follow the law, Mr. Grieco acted promptly to — even though he had accepted those contributions — set out to right that wrong.”
Sources with knowledge of the investigation said a $25,000 contribution to a political committee tied to Grieco led to the charge. The donation was made in the name of Realtor Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche. But investigators believe the funds came from Petter Hagland, a Norwegian millionaire who invested in Miami Beach real estate.
The resignation and plea deal mark the end of Grieco’s sole term in elected office following a turbulent year. At one point a strong contender for mayor, his campaign was rocked by a campaign finance scandal following Herald articles outlining his connections to People for Better Leaders, a secretive political committee that raised $200,000 from well-heeled Beach interests including lobbyists, city vendors and developers.
Amid the scandal, the state attorney’s public corruption unit began a criminal inquiry examining Grieco’s ties to the PAC.
On Tuesday morning, he sent the following email to city officials announcing his resignation:
“Effective immediately, I tender my resignation as Group 2 Commissioner for the remaining two weeks of my term. Serving our Great City of Miami Beach has been my greatest honor. Thank you for giving me that opportunity. When I began my service as Miami Beach Commissioner in 2013, my paramount goal was to leave Miami Beach in a better condition than when I started. I am confident I have done that, and more. I have always done my best. I hope you will agree, and will find the time to work with me in my private life, as I continue to find creative ways to make Miami Beach the BEST City in the Sunshine State and beyond.”
In his resignation and in an email to residents, Grieco made no mention of his plea deal.
“Moving forward I worry that there will be too few voices in city hall that are honest and strong, and the few good ones who remain are being silenced by special interests, power players and transactional politics,” he wrote. “I worry that most of those making decisions are so far removed from the street and real life that they do not understand the true heart of our city and the real needs of the collective.”
Grieco may also face sanction from the Florida Bar. A complaint regarding his conduct with People for Better Leaders has been filed to the Bar, a spokeswoman said. According to its rules, the Bar may initiate “disciplinary action” when one of its members is charged with a crime.