FDLE: Miami city commissioner charged with money laundering, official misconduct and more

The charges stem from various alleged schemes by Diaz de la Portilla and his attorney, including campaign contributions they received for his brother that went unreported and personal expenditures Diaz de la Portilla made using contributions.

Photo illustration by Anabel Dayao/City & State. Photos via City of Miami (Diaz de la Portilla), Unsplash (Miami skyline).

Miami City Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla was arrested Thursday on numerous felony charges relating to money laundering, misuse of his public office and campaign finance violations.

Diaz de la Portilla and his attorney, William W. Riley Jr., have been charged with one count of money laundering, three counts of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, one count of bribery, and one count of criminal conspiracy, according to a statement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). (City & State has requested a copy of the probable cause affidavit used to arrest Diaz de la Portilla.)

Diaz de la Portilla also is charged with four counts of official misconduct, one count of campaign contribution in excess of legal limits, and two counts of failure to report a gift. A FDLE spokesperson confirmed to WLRN that these were felony charges.

The charges stem from various alleged monetary schemes by the pair, including campaign contributions they received for Diaz de la Portilla's brother that they did not report, and personal expenditures Diaz de la Portilla made using campaign contributions.

"Further investigation determined 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. Records showed that one of the committees reported total donations of approximately $2.3 million and the other reported total donations of more than $800,000," FDLE stated.

The investigation against Diaz de la Portilla and his attorney arose out of an inquiry from the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. The commission was looking into several potential ethics violations by Diaz de la Portilla. Once it became clear that there were potential criminal violations involved, they contacted law enforcement, according to a statement by the Commission on Ethics' Executive Director, Jose Arrojo.

"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," Arrojo said.

Diaz de la Portilla is being held on a $72,000 bond, while Riley Jr. is being held on a $46,000 bond. They will have a first appearance in bond court on Friday, Sept. 15.

The commissioner could not be reached for comment on the charges.

The Broward State Attorney's Office will be prosecuting the case against Diaz de la Portilla. The Broward SAO was involved in the investigation against the commissioner, along with FDLE and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.

"I thank and commend the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their hard work and dedication in investigating this case with our prosecutors. The Broward State Attorney’s Office will pursue justice in this matter,” Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor said in a written statement.

Diaz de la Portilla has been on the Miami City Commission since 2019, when he was elected to represent District 1, which includes Allapattah and Grapeland Heights.

He previously served as a Republican member of the Florida Legislature in both the Florida House of Representatives and the State Senate, between 1994 and 2010.

The commissioner has been at the center of multiple controversies during his time at the city.

In March of 2021, Diaz de la Portilla was accused of planting his friend and former legislative aide Jenny Nilo as a “no-show” employee at the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency — a body that Diaz de la Portilla oversees. The executive director of the CRA fired Nilo, saying she never showed up to work in 11 months, despite being paid about $53,000 a year in taxpayer dollars.

Diaz de la Portilla told WPLG he planted Nilo to be his "spy" on the agency.

Later that same year, Diaz de la Portilla was named as one of three commissioners accused of corruption by former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo. Before he was fired in October, Acevedo wrote a memo saying that Diaz de la Portilla, Joe Carollo and Manolo Reyes were guilty of improperly tampering with internal police investigations.

Acevedo asked for "federal intervention" to investigate corruption at Miami City Hall. An investigation was opened into Acevedo's claims, but Miami State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle recused herself from the inquiry, saying that a substantial witness to the potential misconduct was the brother of an attorney in her office. The case was transferred to the Broward State Attorney's Office.

The commissioners all denied Acevedo's claims.

An ethics commission in October of 2022 found probable cause that Diaz de la Portilla abused his power as an elected official by allowing Nilo, the no-show employee, to use a city-owned car to run errands for him, like picking up alcohol for him and dropping off his dry cleaning.

Diaz de la Portilla challenged the ethics commission's findings and said they were not truthful.

Diaz de la Portilla is up for reelection this November. In August, his opponent, Miguel Gabela, sued the city in Miami-Dade civil court, accusing the city of carving his property out of District 1 to disqualify him from running against Diaz de la Portilla.

Most recently, Diaz de la Portilla was sued for racketeering for his alleged involvement in a “shakedown” of a local lobbyist. The lobbyist claims in court that Diaz de la Portilla wanted one of his financial supporters to be involved in the business at the Rickenbacker Marina, and pressured a prospective marina operator to make a deal with him. Diaz de la Portilla declined to comment to WLRN about these allegations.

This story is published as part of a collaboration between City & State Florida and WLRN NewsJoshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org

NEXT STORY: Surfside commissioners reject censure of city's mayor over 'hurtful comments'