Florida Politics

Judge recommends $58,000 in ethics fines for David Rivera

Then-U.S. Rep. David Rivera spoke to reporters in 2012 after being slapped with a slew of Florida ethics violations.
Then-U.S. Rep. David Rivera spoke to reporters in 2012 after being slapped with a slew of Florida ethics violations. EL NUEVO HERALD

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera should be forced to pay $57,821.96 for breaking Florida ethics rules when he was a state legislator, an administrative law judge in Tallahassee recommended Thursday.

Judge David Watkins suggested Rivera, a Miami Republican who has been out of state office since 2010, pay a $16,500 fine plus $41,321.96 in restitution.

In 2012, the judge found that Rivera failed to properly disclose his income and double-billed taxpayers by accepting state reimbursement for travel previously paid for by his campaign account. He served two years as the powerful budget chief in the Florida House of Representatives.

The recommendation will go to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which must then issue a final order, possibly at its April 17 meeting. Any penalty would ultimately have to be imposed by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who served with Rivera from 2008-10.

Rivera said Friday he intends to contest the judge’s recommendation. He could appeal the ethics commission’s eventual final order to the First District Court of Appeal.

“This is a long way from over and I have not yet begun to fight!” he wrote in an email to the Miami Herald.

Rivera, who was elected to Congress in 2010 but lost in 2012, has since proclaimed his intention to run for the Florida House again next year.

Rivera denied wrongdoing when he was initially charged with 11 ethics violations in October 2012. He successfully disputed four of the charges, bringing the number down to seven. His last appeal wound up at the ethics commission in September. Rivera sought to delay the case, but exasperated commissioners said they had had enough. They rejected his request and asked Judge Watkins to determine penalties.

Of the $16,500 recommended fine against Rivera, $10,000 would be for misusing his public position by accepting state reimbursement for travel expenses paid for not by him but by his political campaign. Florida ethics laws prohibit public officers from “corruptly” using or trying to use their official position “to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption.” The ethics commission had found Rivera illegally reimbursed himself $2,091.44.

The rest of the fine comprises $1,000 for each of the five years Rivera submitted improper financial disclosures, plus $1,500 for failing to turn in his final disclosure within a 60-day period after leaving the statehouse.

The ethics panel began investigating Rivera in 2010, following complaints that cited Miami Herald stories about problems in Rivera’s financial disclosure reports.

Ethics investigators had to put their review on hold until the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office launched a more serious criminal investigation into Rivera’s finances. Prosecutors eventually dropped that investigation, citing a short statute of limitations and an ambiguous law that prevented them from filing charges. The ethics commission then resumed its investigation.

Rivera remains under federal criminal investigation as the suspected mastermind of an unrelated federal campaign-finance scheme. He has twice been identified by a federal prosecutor in open court as a “co-conspirator” in the case, but has not been indicted.

An earlier version of this story misstated whether Crisafulli had served with Rivera in the statehouse.