Investigators with the Florida Commission on Ethics found that Rivera’s secret deal to work as a political consultant for the Magic City Casino — formerly the Flagler Dog Track — created a conflict of interest for the lawmaker. The ethics panel also found that the Republican broke state ethics laws by failing to fully disclose his finances from 2005 to 2009.
Rivera was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2002. He won reelection in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
Rivera signed a consulting contract with the Magic City Casino’s owners in 2006 to run a campaign to win voter approval for slot machines at Miami-Dade pari-mutuels. But Rivera had the money from the deal sent to Millennium Marketing, a company founded by his mother and godmother, records show. Rivera then received at least $132,000 back from Millennium — money that Rivera has called loans that did not have to be disclosed.
The ethics commission charges that the Magic City Casino was attempting to influence his vote in the Legislature, where Rivera had also backed legislation favored by the gaming industry. Both Rivera and Magic City’s owners have denied that the consulting contract was an attempt to influence legislation.
In a letter provided to the ethics commission, Rivera’s godmother, Ileana Medina, described Rivera as a subcontractor to Millennium on the slots campaign. But Rivera’s mother told prosecutors in a sworn statement last year that Millennium was a “nonexistent” company created at Rivera’s request, records show. The casino ultimately paid $700,000 to Millennium.
Rivera, elected to Congress in 2010, has denied wrongdoing, and he may fight the charges in an administrative hearing. The charges could lead to civil fines of up to $10,000 per charge.
Rivera issued a statement Wednesday calling the ethics charges “false,” and criticizing the ethics commission for releasing its findings so close to Election Day.
“There is absolutely no legitimate reason for the Commission to have acted now on these old politically motivated claims, which have already been dismissed by other authorities, other than to try and influence the outcome of this election for its own agenda,” Rivera said.
The commission was originally scheduled to consider the complaints against Rivera on Sept. 6, but the hearing was postponed at Rivera’s request, records show. Last week, Rivera’s attorneys again tried to delay the case until after the Nov. 6 election, and Rivera himself contacted a commission member seeking a delay. Ken Pruitt, the former president of the Florida Senate, also tried to intervene on Rivera’s behalf, records show.
The FBI and IRS are also investigating whether Rivera should have paid taxes on the Magic City money.
The ethics commission’s charges come as Rivera is facing a separate FBI probe into his suspected role in secretly financing the campaign of neophyte congressional candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, who ran in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary against Rivera’s current challenger, Joe Garcia. Rivera has denied any role in Sternad’s campaign.