Gov. Ron DeSantis suspends Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla

Author: CBS Miami
Published: Updated:
Alex Diaz de la Portilla (CREDIT: CBS Miami)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended Miami City Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla.

On Friday, there were new details about the arrest of De la Portilla after agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement took him to jail Thursday on criminal charges of money laundering and bribery that were apparently related to accepting campaign contributions but failing to disclose them, investigators said.

An arrest affidavit says the case is tied to a “push by a wealthy couple” to build a sports complex “on public property for their private school near downtown Miami.”

The affidavit said the proposed $10 million athletic facility would be supported in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash and other expenses.

Diaz de la Portilla, 59, is facing a host of criminal charges, including one count of money laundering, three counts of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, one count of bribery, one count of criminal conspiracy, four counts of official misconduct, one count of campaign contribution in excess of legal limits and two counts of failure to report a gift, the FDLE said.

Attorney David Weinstein, a legal analyst, spoke to CBS News Miami about the charges.

“On paper,” he said, “these are rather serious charges. They involve bribery. They involve money laundering. They involve official misconduct. Some of these charges carry a maximum of 30 years. The amount of time they could be looking at if convicted and sentenced, whether it’s decades or years, is really dependent on what the government proves, how much money changed hands, what abuses there were that took place.”

CBS News Miami’s Peter D’Oench reached out to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and the Broward State Attorney’s Office but they said they are not commenting right now. 

On Friday, a spokeswoman said they did not do interviews about ongoing cases as a matter of policy and handled cases in the courtroom. She said prosecutors will review everything and said there could be developments in the coming weeks.

CBS News crews were there as the commissioner attended a City Commission meeting Thursday morning at City Hall and then later in the afternoon was taken inside the TGK Correctional Center in West Miami-Dade.

Attorney William W. Riley Jr. 48, of Miami, is also facing a litany of charges, including one count of money laundering, three counts of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, one count of bribery, one count of criminal conspiracy and failure to disclose lobbyist expenses, according to a written statement by the FDLE.

Both men were booked into Turner Guilford Knight (TGK) Detention Center after their arrest Thursday afternoon, officials said. 

Diaz de la Portilla was being held Thursday afternoon on a $72,000 bond, while Riley Jr. was being held on a $46,000 bond, the FDLE statement said. 

Both men were expected to appear in front of a judge for a first appearance hearing on Sept. 15.

Investigators said they found evidence that Diaz de la Portilla and Riley Jr. accepted more than $15,000 in payments for Diaz de la Portilla’s brother’s Miami-Dade County Court judicial campaign but did not report them, as required by Florida law.

The FDLE statement said Riley Jr. controlled a bank account in the name of a Delaware-based corporation that was used to launder $245,000 in concealed political contributions made by a management services company in exchange for permission to build a sports complex in the city of Miami.

The FDLE determined that Diaz de la Portilla also operated and controlled two political committees used not only to support his brother’s campaign but also for personal expenditures.

According to investigators, one of the committees reported total donations of approximately $2.3 million and the other reported total donations of more than $800,000.

The investigation was assigned to the Broward State Attorney’s Office after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office requested the investigation be reassigned to avoid any possible conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety, Broward officials said. 

“It is always sad and regrettable when an elected official is criminally charged with abusing the public’s trust, but the community should find some solace in the fact that today’s arrest will shine a bright light on the alleged criminal conduct,” said Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust Executive Director Jose Arrojo. “The investigation leading to today’s arrest of City of Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla and local attorney William W. Riley, Jr. began as an inquiry into possible violations of local ethics ordinances. Once it became evident that a violation of criminal law was indicated, the matter was brought to prosecutors and law enforcement. We commend our investigators and staff as well as the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, for their work on this case and thank them for allowing the Ethics Commission to partner with them.”

As Diaz de la Portilla was walking out of TGK on Thursday night, he said the following to awaiting reporters, “This is a work of fiction by this prosecutor. This is a Democrat state attorney from Broward County who is targeting a Republican commissioner from Miami.”

“The same thing is happening to President Trump at the national level with four different false prosecutions.”

“We are seeing it at the national level and now we are seeing it at the local level. There is nothing true about this complaint. Not an ounce of truth.”

Earlier in the day, Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement that the charges were politically motivated. “When the smoke clears, I am confident that these spurious charges will evaporate into thin air.”

His lawyer released the following statement on his behalf:

“Commissioner Diaz de la Portilla has done nothing wrong.

This arrest without notice or an opportunity to show that the charges are false and unsupported is an outrage and a political assault on the City of Miami voters timed to alter the outcome of the District 1 election.

This action has been timed and executed for shock and awe purposes, to create the maximum damage to Commissioner Diaz de la Portilla’s campaign and his family. This is nothing more than prosecutorial abuse of our court system, abuse of process, and the unfortunate weaponization of law enforcement targeting an effective and conservative Republican lawmaker by a Democrat State Attorney for political purposes and career advancement.

These false charges by the outsider Broward State Attorney’s Office is an obvious ploy to remove an effective and honored public servant from office.

Rest assured, Commissioner Diaz de la Portilla will win this battle and continue his fight on behalf of the citizens of Miami.”

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