Lawsuit aims to remove Florida Congressional candidate David Rivera from ballot

Candidates answer questions during a Congressional District 25 Forum with candidates David Rivera (R), Joe Garcia (D), and Craig Porter (Whig), at iTech, Immokalee Technical Center in Immokalee on Oct. 19, 2010. The forum was sponsored by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and the Eastern Collier Chamber of Commerce. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Candidates answer questions during a Congressional District 25 Forum with candidates David Rivera (R), Joe Garcia (D), and Craig Porter (Whig), at iTech, Immokalee Technical Center in Immokalee on Oct. 19, 2010. The forum was sponsored by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and the Eastern Collier Chamber of Commerce. Greg Kahn/Staff

candidate
David Rivera

candidate David Rivera

Joe Garcia

Joe Garcia

Craig Porter

Craig Porter

Candidate Roly Arrojo declined to provide a photograph.

— Accusations of ethics violations and improper disclosure of his finances continue to mount against South Florida Congressional candidate David Rivera.

The latest round comes from Miami-based attorney William Barzee, who filed a lawsuit Thursday in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Miami-Dade, asking that Republican Rivera be disqualified as a candidate for congress.

Coral Gables-based attorney Roland Sanchez-Medina Jr., who is representing Barzee, wrote that the complaint for declaratory judgment and disqualification was filed on the basis that Rivera deliberately misrepresented his income and job history on his financial disclosure forms.

“Under Florida law, a candidate who violates Florida financial disclosure requirements is subject to disqualification from being on the ballot,” Sanchez-Medina wrote in a statement.

Rivera’s campaign didn’t take kindly to the lawsuit and called it a stunt by Rivera’s Democratic opponent, Joe Garcia.

“Today Joe Garcia conceded defeat in his campaign for Congress. In his fervor to win, Garcia will do anything. This latest publicity stunt to knock David Rivera off the ballot just shows that Garcia is a typical Washington-insider who thinks he should get his way — even if it means circumventing the democratic process and suing his way into office,” Rivera communications director Leslie Veiga said.

“Garcia is witnessing how voters are rejecting his candidacy because of continued personal attacks on Rivera and his relentless support for (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi’s failed economic policies, so his only hope of getting elected is by not having opposition,’’ Veiga said. “The complaint has no merit and we are confident that it will be thrown out.”

Veiga added in a follow-up e-mail that Garcia previously had worked for Sanchez-Medina’s firm, and that Sanchez-Medina gave Garcia $2,500 in 2008 as well as serving as his campaign treasurer.

In addition, it was the Garcia campaign that sent out a press release concerning the suit Thursday and two Garcia staffers were on hand at a press conference where the lawsuit was announced.

Garcia spokesman Ariel Milian called the insinuation that the campaign was involved in Barzee or Sanchez-Medina’s actions untrue.

“We are not party to the suit,” Milian said.

He added that the campaign doesn’t deny that Sanchez-Medina contributed to Garcia’s 2008 run and was the campaign’s treasurer, but that the action by the two attorneys on Thursday was their own.

“They are Democratic supporters, but they are also concerned attorneys,” Milian said.

Rivera and Garcia are the front-runners in the race for Florida’s Congressional District 25 seat, which also includes Florida Whig Party candidate Craig Porter and Tea Party candidate Roly Arrojo. The winner will fill the seat being vacated by GOP Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who ran unopposed for his brother Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s District 21 seat. In February, Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced his intent to retire from office.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of an Oct. 13 Miami Herald article in which the veracity of Rivera’s financial disclosure reports were called into question. At issue is Rivera listing his secondary source of income — apart from his main salary as a Florida House member — as coming from consulting work done for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). However, the article revealed that the agency had no record of hiring Rivera or his company.

Rivera’s financial disclosure forms dating back to 2003 were amended Friday, and now the paperwork omits USAID and Rivera’s firm Interamerican Government Relations.

In a letter filed Friday with the Florida Ethics Commission, Rivera’s Tallahassee-based attorney, Richard E. Coates, wrote that Rivera didn’t need to fill out the secondary source of income section because the information didn’t meet the reporting criteria.

“The amendments are being filed without any admission that the original files Full and Public Disclosures of Financial Interests were not a full and fair disclosure of Representative Rivera’s financial interests,” Coates wrote, adding that the changes were for the sole purpose of clarifying the information.

Under the state’s disclosure rules, lawmakers are required to report the sources of any income exceeding $1,000.

According to the Florida Commission of Ethics, if there is a “secondary source of income,” candidates still have to list who that customer, client or provider of other income was if they provided more than 10 percent of the total income of a candidate’s business.

As a result, Barzee decided to sue Rivera.

“To this day, candidate David Rivera has failed to comply with the most basic statutory requirement of explaining how he makes a living. Florida courts have held that the citizens of this state have a right to know the source of a candidate’s income,” Barzee wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News. “David Rivera’s most recent action of hiring a lawyer to file last-second amendments to his previously filed reports only leads credence to the very real concern that David Rivera is intentionally hiding the true source of his income … If a private citizen breaks the law they go to jail. Politicians do not have a right to recklessly ignore our laws. It’s time for David Rivera to come clean or step aside.”

Created in 2002, District 25 covers the eastern part of Collier County, western Miami-Dade County and some of Monroe.

The seat is being vacated by GOP Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who ran unopposed for his brother Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s District 21 seat. In February, Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced his intent to retire from office.

Joe Garcia and David Rivera will also face off against Whig Party candidate Craig Porter and Tea Party candidate Roly Arrojo on Nov. 2.

This isn’t the first complaint that Barzee — a one-time donor of Rivera’s and now a supporter of Garcia — has filed against the Republican candidate.

In August, Barzee filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against Rivera and a 527 group called Voters Response. A 527 group is a tax-exempt organization engaging in political activities, using unlimited contributions.

Barzee said he filed the complaint due to his belief that Rivera and Voters Response violated federal campaign finance laws.

In addition, the Miami attorney also recently filed a complaint against Rivera with the Florida Ethics Commission accusing the state representative of hiding his income in the annual disclosure forms.

Barzee’s suit isn’t the first of its kind.

On Oct. 15, a judge removed a Republican state Senate candidate from the Nov. 2 ballot for violating Florida’s financial disclosure laws.

The judge ruled that Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman was ineligible for nomination or election because he violated the law by failing to disclose a $500,000 gift to his wife from a friend of the couple — a businessman who appeared before Norman in his official capacity. The money was used to purchase a home in Arkansas listed in his wife’s name.

On Thursday afternoon, Sanchez-Medina said the case against Norman did set a precedent and that he thinks the law is on Barzee’s side.

A hearing on the Rivera matter hasn’t been set yet, Sanchez-Medina said.

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: Bios on House District 25 candidates Craig Porter, Roly Arrojo

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on House District 25 candidate Joe Garcia

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on House District 25 candidate David Rivera

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