Under investigation for the past two years, the mayor of North Miami Beach on Tuesday agreed to resign from office and accept house arrest as part of a plea deal for violating state-campaign finance laws.
George Vallejo accepted the deal, which was negotiated in advance of his being charged with two first-degree misdemeanors by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office.
Vallejo pleaded guilty to filing a false report on a $5,000 expenditure by a political action committee and authorizing an illegal expenditure in that amount by the committee during his 2015 reelection campaign.
Vallejo, 51, accepted the deal during a brief hearing Tuesday before County Judge Samuel Slom. Under his agreement, Vallejo was granted a withhold of adjudication that will allow him to erase his criminal record when his probation is completed.
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Prosecutors believe Vallejo, who is in the real estate business, and his wife used straw companies to divert thousands of dollars in campaign and political committee donations to pay their personal bills. Vallejo’s wife was not charged as part of the plea deal, which was negotiated between his defense team and Assistant State Attorney Drew Bunker.
As part of the deal, Vallejo will spend three months confined to his home and 18 months in all on probation. He will also be barred from running for any office during that time, and he must complete 500 community-service hours and issue an apology letter.
“It has been an honor to serve the residents of North Miami Beach as your mayor since 2011. As proud as I am of our achievements, I am equally sorry for the events that bring me to court today,” he wrote in a letter issued by his defense attorney, Jeffrey Sloman. “I take full responsibility for my actions and apologize to the citizens of North Miami Beach and look forward to putting this matter behind me.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Vallejo responded with short answers to the judge’s questions about accepting responsibility and the terms of his plea agreement with prosecutors. He was flanked by two prominent defense lawyers: Sloman, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, and Ben Kuehne, who has represented numerous politicians, officials and judges in trouble over the years.
The investigation into Vallejo was no secret — on Twitter and Facebook, he acknowledged the existence of the probe in August 2016.
“Anytime we can get someone who breached the public trust, that’s a good outcome,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Vallejo’s resignation as mayor not only leaves his ceremonial position vacant on the seven-member North Miami Beach City Commission — it will have a huge impact on the city’s ability to do any legislative business.
Two other members of the commission are also gone: Frantz Pierre was automatically removed from office in January for missing all but one commission meeting since last April, and Marlen Martell recently resigned to become the city manager in North Bay Village.
As a result, the commission has three vacancies and four remaining members — one shy of the number needed for a quorum to vote on budgetary, zoning and other legislative matters. It was immediately unclear how the city plans to resolve the problem.
City Attorney Jose Smith told the Miami Herald that his office is addressing the issue.
Vallejo was first elected as mayor in 2011 and won reelection to another four-year term automatically in 2015 when he faced no challengers.
Despite his fall, Vallejo led a city that strove to reduce crime, generate greater commercial development and boost the property tax base to be more like North Miami Beach’s affluent high-rise neighboring cities, Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach. During his tenure, North Miami Beach stabilized its finances, privatized garbage pick-ups and retained an outside contractor to manager its substantial water utility, a proposal that drew protests from union members.
Vallejo said in his letter of apology that he will always keep North Miami Beach in his heart. “I will always have a great love for our city and optimism for its future,” he said.
Now out of office, Vallejo said he will be devoting full time to taking care of his wife, who has cancer.
Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this story.