Politics

What better way for a Florida politician to celebrate ending probation than a campaign?

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of Florida’s campaign finance laws in October.
Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of Florida’s campaign finance laws in October. cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

Michael Grieco’s probation ended this week. What better way to celebrate than a run for public office?

Three days after Grieco was cut free from the punishment levied last year for a series of self-inflicted campaign finance and ethics gaffes during his failed mayoral bid, the disgraced former Miami Beach commissioner on Friday announced his campaign for a coastal state House seat. He told the Miami Herald that he contacted the two Democrats already in the race to let them know he's mounting his own bid after filing paperwork in Tallahassee.

"With the encouragement of my family and supporters, today I humbly filed to run and fill the District 113 state House seat being vacated by David Richardson," Grieco said. "We will be putting out a more formal statement in the next day or two."

A return to public life would be remarkable, considering that not long ago, Grieco’s political future seemed bleak.

In October, Judge Samuel Slom banned him from running for public office for one year after he pleaded no contest to a criminal violation of Florida’s campaign finance laws. But on Tuesday Grieco’s request for his probation to be terminated after six months was granted, as allowed for in his plea deal. State prosecutors did not object.

Grieco claims the scandal that led to his being charged was manufactured by his political enemies, including his former opponent for Miami Beach mayor, Dan Gelber. After the hearing, he said was happy to have his "time in the political penalty box" cut in half.

His name had been floated in the days leading up to the end of his probation as a candidate for recent openings on the Miami-Dade and Miami Beach commissions.

Still, the South Beach resident faces two looming ethics probes that might complicate his political prospects.

For one, the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust is investigating whether Grieco broke county ethic rules when he told Herald reporters he had nothing to do with a political action committee that he had in fact set up and solicited money for.

And the Florida Bar is examining whether Grieco’s conduct broke legal ethics rules. The Bar recently forwarded a complaint against him to one of its grievance committees. That committee must decide whether to file charges against Grieco before the Florida Supreme Court, a process that can take months.

The underlying scandal — which forced him to drop a promising campaign for Beach mayor and resign as a commissioner — involved Grieco accepting illegal contributions from a Norwegian millionaire into a political action committee, People for Better Leaders. Grieco repeatedly denied having anything to do with the committee.

“You can look right into my soul,” he said.

But the Miami Herald showed forms registering the PAC were filled out in Grieco's own handwriting. And donors to the committee gave sworn interviews to state prosecutors saying Grieco had solicited them for contributions to boost his run for mayor.

Ricky Arriola, a Beach commissioner who clashed with Grieco on the dais, said he doesn't believe his former colleague is "suitable" to serve in the Florida House.

“He knowingly lied to Miami Beach residents. You have multiple people swearing under oath that directly contradict him," Arriola said. "Then the week his probation is lifted, he’s jumping right back into elected office. No contrition, no remorse. It’s classic Grieco: hubris and narcissism. He’s blaming everyone but himself for a problem he got himself into."

Grieco joins a race that already features two other Democrats: Deede Weithorn, whom the Herald caught inflating her education credentials, and Kubs Lalchandani, an attorney whose clients include cosmetic surgery centers where patients have been maimed and killed.

The primary is in August. So far, there are no Republicans running in the heavily Democratic district.

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