Not me: Other developers deny putting Miami mayor on the payroll

City’s most visible elected official is facing ethics and state attorney inquiries over alleged six-figure payments from Rishi Kapoor

From left: Miami Worldcenter's Nitin Motwani, Moishe Mana, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Rishi Kapoor, Related's Jorge Pérez
From left: Miami Worldcenter's Nitin Motwani, Moishe Mana, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Rishi Kapoor, Related's Jorge Pérez (Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal; Getty, Mtamz305, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Miami World Center)

Is Rishi Kapoor the only developer paying Miami Mayor Francis Suarez on the side? 

The explosive revelation that Kapoor’s firm, Location Ventures, paid Suarez at least $170,000 as a private consultant over the last couple of years, has prompted ethics and state attorney investigations. While Suarez was being compensated by the Coral Gables-based development firm, it sought key approvals from Miami planning and zoning administrators for a co-living project in Coconut Grove. 

Suarez and Kapoor have maintained the payments are for work unrelated to any city business involving Location Ventures, but Kapoor allegedly sought the mayor’s assistance in cutting through red tape for the project, the Miami Herald reported. 

The revelation begs the question: Is Suarez also on other developers’ payrolls? The Real Deal reached out to a dozen developers, and only three of them responded within the past week. Their answer? A hard no.

In a text message reply, Related Group Chairman Jorge Pérez said, “Have never hired the mayor in any capacity.” Through a spokesperson, Nitin Motwani, master co-developer of the $4 billion Miami Worldcenter mixed-use project, said he has “no financial relationship with the mayor.” 

And Moishe Mana, the largest landowner in downtown Miami and Wynwood, said in a phone interview that he has never employed Suarez, but that he is one of the mayor’s biggest political campaign donors. 

Mana said the furor over the Kapoor payments was overblown. 

“I think it is a complete hit job against the guy,” Mana said. “He’s clean as a whistle. And from my experience, asking the mayor for help has the opposite effect with the building and zoning departments.”

With a $97,000 annual salary as mayor, Suarez has to supplement his income as a private attorney and consultant, according to Mana. 

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“Of course, he’s going to have a side job,” Mana said. “He’s allowed to do so.” 

It appears that Suarez’s relationship with Kapoor did pay dividends for the developer. 

Daniel Goldberg, Miami’s zoning director, reversed his decision rejecting portions of the Coconut Grove project, dubbed Urbin, after Lazaro Quintero, director of constituent affairs for the mayor, requested that he reconsider his denial, the Herald reported.

The ethics and criminal inquiries could force the mayor to disclose his private client list. 

“I think they will want to find out everyone whom Suarez has taken money from and find out what he has done for that money,” said Robert Jarvis, a legal ethics expert at Nova Southeastern University. “I doubt Suarez will be like, ‘Oh sure, I’ll turn over my records.’ He may try to claim attorney-client privilege.”

And Jarvis dismissed Mana’s claims of a hit job on Suarez. 

“To suggest the press is going after Suarez and Kapoor is ridiculous,” he said. “[Suarez’s and Kapoor’s] actions have raised reasonable questions about their conduct that they could quickly clear up by turning over their contract, invoices and records. The mayor should have said, ‘No, I can’t take this job.’” 

A developer, Jarvis added, is well within their rights to seek assistance from a government official for constituent services.

“But that’s way different from saying, ‘Building and zoning turned down my development. I want to know what wheel I have to grease to get it overturned,’” Jarvis said. “That’s improper help.”