Cops secretly recorded candidate's call to campaign consultant
As the "Me Too" movement gained steam across the nation last fall, Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez went public with her own harrowing tale: that a political ally, Rafael Velasquez, had pulled out his penis and tried to force her to touch it while the two sat alone in a car.
But according to a newly released memo from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, prosecutors have declined to charge Velasquez, saying there was not enough evidence to prove a crime took place.
If anything, investigators found evidence that conflicted with the commissioner's account — although they also declined to pursue Velasquez's counter-claim that the commissioner made the whole thing up and filed a false police report in order to promote her congressional campaign.
"This commissioner used these false allegations for political purposes, and the power of her office, to basically destroy my name and reputation in our community,” said Velasquez, who at the time was locked in a close race for the Miami Beach commission. “The only taxpayer-funded seat this criminal commissioner should occupy is a bench in state prison.”
Prosecutors said they informed Rosen Gonzalez and her attorney last month "that no criminal charges could be filed in this matter" because they "would not be able to meet [the] burden of proof to establish a crime had occurred beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt." But in a statement to the Herald, Rosen Gonzalez claimed she was the one who told prosecutors she did not want the case to go on.
"When Velasquez exposed himself, I felt humiliated. But when his repeated inappropriate behavior towards other women was also exposed and his commission opponent was elected, I felt the public trust was protected and advised the State Attorney that I did not wish to press charges," she wrote. "Justice has been done."
The memo closing the case contains no suggestion that Rosen Gonzalez wanted to drop the matter. The state attorney's office declined to comment.
Rosen Gonzalez's allegations — dished to the media before she reported them to the police — killed Velasquez's political aspirations and thrust her own congressional campaign into the middle of a discussion about the sex scandals dominating Florida's politics in late 2017. They also drew out stories from two more women: publicist Frances Alban, who said the married 45-year-old father of two groped her, and Roxanna Ayers, who said Velasquez made inappropriate, "pervy" comments about her appearance.
Velasquez is a Democratic activist whose rocky political career includes an episode where he says he accidentally voted illegally, twice. Rosen Gonzalez, first elected to the Miami Beach City Commission in 2015, is running as a Democrat to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This isn't the first time Rosen Gonzalez has been in the middle of a headline-grabbing news story.
Earlier this month, the Miami-Dade County ethics commission scolded her for reaching out to Miami Beach's police chief on behalf of a political supporter who was under criminal investigation. The commission said she should be wary of contacting police “so that it does not appear that she is using her official position … to intervene in a criminal investigation.”
In the earlier case, Rosen Gonzalez told police that Velasquez unexpectedly exposed himself on Oct. 15 following dinner at Cafe Avanti, where the two dined after Velasquez spent the afternoon knocking on doors and speaking to voters in the commissioner's neighborhood. She said she drove him to the restaurant, and on the ride back to his car he grabbed her hand several times and tried to pull it off the steering wheel and onto his genitals.
"Put it away!" she said she yelled.
Velasquez denied the allegation when questioned by detectives. He also showed investigators text messages showing Rosen Gonzalez continued to communicate in a friendly manner with him after the alleged incident. The next week, he says, she put him in contact with her campaign consultant in order to help his city commission bid, and then invited him and his wife to a local Democratic party gala, where they took pictures together.
Detectives also believed Rosen Gonzalez might have been wrong about when she and Velasquez were alone in her car together. In the memo, prosecutors said Velasquez showed them text messages that revealed Rosen Gonzalez was already at Avanti with her two daughters on Oct. 15, and invited him to meet them. Velasquez said they dined alone at the restaurant one week earlier, on Oct. 8, and produced campaign documents showing that was the date that he was knocking on doors in Rosen Gonzalez's neighborhood.
Rosen Gonzalez acknowledged she continued to work with Velasquez's campaign after the alleged incident. But she stood by her story.
"I was helping his campaign. My professional relationship with his campaign did not give him license to expose himself to me," she said, adding she came forward with the allegation on the urging of her staff. "I'm really happy I did the brave thing and came forward so he can no longer abuse women. Not easy, but the #Metoo movement helped me find the courage."
The State Attorney's Office ruled it could not prove a crime of misdemeanor battery took place.
"As is true in many other similar situations, this case involved a delayed report of an offense; there was no physical evidence to prove the offense occurred; there were no other witnesses who would testify that the incident occurred," prosecutor Nolen Bunker wrote in a final memo. "The subject did not admit to the alleged misconduct."
Fuming, Velasquez told Miami Beach detectives that he had learned that Rosen Gonzalez "fabricated" the episode to score some positive publicity. His source, he said: Pedro Diaz, the Miami campaign consultant who worked with both politicians.
As detectives secretly listened in, Velasquez called Diaz in November, urging the campaign consultant to repeat his story about a "set-up" to police.
"I'm not telling anybody, brutha. I can't do that," Diaz said on the call. "I told you this in confidence, bro."
Toward the end of the call, Diaz denied ever saying Rosen Gonzalez concocted the whole thing.
"The only thing I told you was that I tried stopping her from doing it, from publicizing it because it could backfire on her later on next year in the campaign," Diaz said, adding: "I never told you she was planning it."
Diaz repeated his version of events to Miami Beach detectives and the Miami Herald. He said Rosen Gonzalez did discuss how much publicity she’d gain by going public, but never said she’d made up the allegation.
“The police did call me to ask some questions,” said Diaz, who stopped working with Rosen Gonzalez's campaign shortly after she accused Velazquez of behaving inappropriately. “I worked with Kristen for some time. I said [to police] I don’t know what really happened. There are times that Kristen says things without thinking them through, but I don’t know what happened.”
Detectives also spoke to Democratic activist and pundit Leslie Wimes, who worked for Rosen Gonzalez's campaign and said she was told of the incident soon after it happened. "Ms. Wimes encouraged Ms. Rosen Gonzalez to contact the police, but denied encouraging or helping her to fabricate or embellish her account," according to the memo.