Politics & Government

State ethics commission: Congressman David Rivera broke 11 ethics laws while serving in Florida Legislature

Already facing an FBI probe and a daunting re-election bid, Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera is now accused of 11 counts of violating ethics laws for filing bogus financial disclosure forms, misusing campaign funds and concealing a $1 million consulting contract with a Miami gambling business while serving in the state Legislature.

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 Rivera 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 re-election in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Rivera signed a contract with the Magic City Casino’s owners in 2006, but had the money from the deal sent to Millennium Marketing, a company founded by Rivera’s mother and godmother, records show. Rivera then received at least $132,000 back from Millennium — money that Rivera has called loans that need not be disclosed.

Rivera, who was elected to Congress in 2010 after eight years in the Florida Legislature, has denied wrongdoing, and he may fight the charges in an administrative hearing.

Rivera issued a statement Wednesday calling the ethics charges “false,” and criticizing the state Ethics Commission for releasing its findings so close to Election Day.

Rivera is trailing in the polls in his race against Democrat Joe Garcia, whom Rivera defeated in 2010.

“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.

Rivera also noted that one of the ethics complaints was filed by William Barzee, a frequent donor to Garcia’s campaigns.

Rivera’s ties to the casino were part of a larger criminal probe of Rivera’s finances by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors dropped the case earlier this year.

But Rivera remains the target of two separate federal probes looking at his finances and his ties to Justin Lamar Sternad, a neophyte candidate who ran against Garcia in the Democratic primary this summer. The FBI is investigating whether Rivera secretly supplied the cash that financed Sternad’s campaign.

Rivera has repeatedly denied any involvement in Sternad’s failed primary campaign.