Florida senator says cash stuffed in Kate Spade purse at campaign fundraiser was a gag

Sen. Daphne Campbell, center, accepts a gift from Julio C. Alfonso, founder of Solidaridad Sin Fronteras, during a May 24, 2017, birthday fundraiser at the Miami Shores Country Club.
Sen. Daphne Campbell, center, accepts a gift from Julio C. Alfonso, founder of Solidaridad Sin Fronteras, during a May 24, 2017, birthday fundraiser at the Miami Shores Country Club. YouTube screen grab

On the night state Sen. Daphne Campbell celebrated her 60th birthday, friends and associates regaled her with dancers, dinner and a double-tiered cake and flowers at the Miami Shores Country Club. At the end of the evening, she was gifted with a black-and-white Kate Spade purse with diamond patterns.

And then someone shoved cash inside.

Exactly how much money Campbell received during the reelection campaign fundraiser isn’t known. But this much is: If Campbell kept the cash, she did so in violation of state law because she reported none of it.

The Democratic senator — whose long track record of ethical missteps and criminal investigations has made her one of Florida’s more controversial elected officials — says the whole thing was a gag, as does the businessman who gave her the money. Campbell criticized a reporter for asking her about the video, denying that money was ever exchanged and hanging up twice during an interview.

“They were celebrating Daphne Campbell’s birthday. That night, of course I was joking. I was joking! It was just a joke. What kind of life can an elected official have if on your birthday it’s an issue? I’m very upset for you guys to call me and say I received money and I didn’t report it,” Campbell said, arguing that the event was private. “People can’t donate to your birthday no more?”

Campbell celebrated her birthday on May 24 by holding a reelection fundraiser that, according to video later posted on her Florida Senate YouTube page, was hosted by Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime and her campaign accountant, Hudson Robillard, among others. Attendees were told to donate a minimum of $150 to Campbell’s campaign in order to attend, but were allowed to give up to $1,000, the maximum amount allowed under Florida law.

The 84-minute video of the fundraiser includes flattering speeches, a soprano saxophone version of John Legend’s “All of You,” and choreographed dances. Then, while standing on a stage toward the end of the event, Campbell is approached by Julio César Alfonso, president of healthcare non-profit Solidaridad Sin Fronteras, which helps doctors displaced and exiled from foreign countries become licensed in the U.S.

Campbell fundraiser
An advertisement for Daphne Campbell’s 60th birthday party and campaign fundraiser. YouTube screen grab

He hands her a box, which she opens to reveal the Kate Spade purse inside a brown plastic bag. “There’s money in it!” Campbell shouts with a smile after pulling out the purse.

“I got the check!” someone yells, amid laughter.

Alfonso rips off a tag. Then he reaches into his jacket pocket and the camera zooms in to show his hand stuffing a wad of neatly folded bills into the purse, with at least two $100 bills on the outside of the fold.

Campbell says she kept no cash, and says the purse was “not expensive.” Presumably, then, it was valued below the $100 threshold in state law for reporting gifts given to elected officials by anyone who isn’t an immediate relative, since she didn’t disclose it to the state.

“The purse had no money! Go and call him and ask him. Julio gave me campaign contributions. It’s in the report. But we were just joking. You can’t joke anymore? Oh my goodness,” Campbell said. “Up to today’s date, I don’t even use that purse yet. The purse is not an expensive purse, number one. Two, the purse had no money. You can’t joke anymore. You have to watch what you’re doing.”

Campbell told a reporter to question Alfonso and then hung up when asked what happened to the money that he shoved inside the purse.

Campbell purse JPEG
Video posted on Sen. Daphne Campbell’s YouTube page shows a campaign donor giving her a Kate Spade purse and then placing several hundred dollars inside. Campbell says the money was a joke. YouTube screen grab

Alfonso, whose work is well-known in Miami healthcare circles, also said he gave Campbell cash for yucks. He said the purse had been a gift to his wife, but she didn’t like it so he gave it to the senator. He says the tag he yanked off the bag was a note to his spouse.

“I think it was a joke. I gave her some presents and gifts and she said ‘Oh, there’s money inside.’ I pulled from my pocket some money — maybe, I don’t know, a one- or five-dollar bill. I [took] it back. The gift was closed. I put like a joke and I [took] the money back. It’s a public event.”

Campbell insisted that the only money she received from Alfonso came from campaign checks deposited on June 1. Campbell’s latest campaign reports show Alfonso gave $1,000 plus the price of the minimum fundraiser donation for Campbell’s birthday, although the reports were altered after the Florida Division of Elections caught problems with Campbell’s reporting. Since then, $1,800 has been returned to Alfonso and SSF co-founder Arianna Torrejon because they gave Campbell more money than the law allowed.

Campbell did not report receiving any cash, which under Florida law is restricted to $50 per person to either a candidate or a committee. To give or accept more is a misdemeanor.

Campbell’s fundraiser was held after the 2017 legislative session. During the recently passed 2018 session, Campbell filed a bill in conjunction with Alfonso’s agency that loosened licensing restrictions for foreign doctors. Campbell’s bill allowed physicians licensed in other countries to seek restricted licensing in the U.S. as long as they perform community service for a year with a non-profit healthcare agency, such as SSF.

Campbell, who has a nursing background, has been dogged by investigations and ethics scandals during hereight years in the Florida Legislature.She filed legislation to ban red light cameras after the family minivan racked up several citations, and once filed a bill to block public disclosure of troubled assisted living facilities — such as the ones her family company ran. She has been hit with IRS liens and investigated for Medicaid fraud.

Campbell won a two-year term to the Florida Senate in 2016, and now faces a reelection challenge from Democrat Jason Pizzo.

After hanging up a second time, Campbell refused to answer further questions about the event and the money. She did not respond to questions left with an aide about what happened to the money Alfonso placed in her purse and the value of the bag.

“No one ever gave me cash money, let me tell you,” Campbell said. “I follow the law. I know the law, and I respect the law.”