Alex Diaz de la Portilla, cronies allegedly squeezed city marina operator: lawsuit

Miami commissioner and his associates accused of shaking down Aabad Melwani, whose company has city lease to provide boat docks on Virginia Key

Miami Commissioner Accused Of Shakedown Scheme
Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla and former State Legislator Manny Prieguez with Rickenbacker Marina (Alex Diaz de la Portilla via X, Florida House of Representatives, Google Maps, Getty)

Lobbyist and former state legislator Manuel Prieguez alleges his ex-pal, Miami city commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, targeted him and a marina client in a shakedown scheme.

In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Prieguez alleges Diaz de la Portilla sought to pressure him and Aabad Melwani, president of Rickenbacker Marina, in 2020 when the city was considering proposals for a new boat dock facility on city-owned land in Virginia Key. Prieguez’s complaint was first reported by the Miami Herald.

Prieguez is suing Diaz de la Portilla and two close confidantes of the city commissioner, Humberto “Bert” Hernandez and Anibel Duarte-Viera, on civil counts of racketeering, conspiracy and attempted bribery. Prieguez served as a state representative for portions of southwest Miami-Dade from 1998 to 2004, and Diaz de la Portilla was his campaign manager. He has known the Diaz de la Portilla family since childhood, the lawsuit states.

“I was a victim of a crime,” Prieguez told The Real Deal. “It felt pretty crappy to be treated this way by Anibal Duarte-Viera and Bert Hernandez at the direction of Alex Diaz de la Portilla. When I was being shaken down, they were not at all shy about impressing upon me that Alex knew exactly what was going on.” 

Prieguez also said he reported the alleged extortion attempt to law enforcement, but he declined to provide further details. 

Diaz de la Portilla declined comment. Hernandez, an ex-Miami city commissioner who served four years on federal mortgage and bank fraud charges in the 1990s, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and an email. 

Duarte-Viera denied any wrongdoing through his attorney, Luis Suarez. Prieguez’s complaint is a politically motivated hit job meant to influence voters’ opinions of Diaz de la Portilla as he seeks reelection in November, Suarez said via email.

“I guess that’s not uncommon in today’s political climate,” Suarez said. “To be sure, my client will relentlessly defend against falsehoods and meritless claims, and pursue any and all legal actions against those who have caused him harm.”

Melwani, who is not a party to Prieguez’s lawsuit, did not respond to a text message seeking comment. 

The alleged shakedown occurred three years ago, according to the complaint. 

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Several months before the Miami City Commission discussed various proposals to redevelop Rickenbacker Marina on Oct. 8, 2020, Melwani allegedly met with Diaz de la Portilla and Duarte-Viera for lunch at Capital Grille in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood, the lawsuit states. 

Melwani, whose family has operated Rickenbacker Marina for decades, led one of the teams that submitted proposals. Prieguez alleges that Melwani told him that Diaz de la Portilla set up the meeting so they could discuss Duarte-Viera’s interest in getting into the marina business. Melwani “felt uncomfortable about the whole thing,” the lawsuit states.

Days before the city commission meeting, Duarte-Viera invited Prieguez and Hernandez to his house for drinks, the complaint alleges. After some wine and whisky, Duarte-Viera and Hernandez allegedly pressed Prieguez about making Duarte-Viera part of Melwani’s development team. 

Duarte-Viera allegedly warned Preiguez that Melwani’s team did not have the votes on the city commission to win the bid unless he was included in the deal, and that Diaz de la Portilla knew that they were having a private meeting to discuss partnering with Melwani, according to the suit. 

Prieguez left Duarte-Viera’s house feeling agitated and unwilling to participate in the unlawful scheme, the lawsuit states. 

On the day of the Oct. 8, 2020 city commission meeting, Diaz de la Portilla allegedly texted Melwani to go to the East Miami hotel in Brickell during a lunch break, the lawsuit states. Melwani allegedly told Prieguez that when he arrived at the hotel lobby, he was greeted by Hernandez, Duarte-Viera and a third person named Elnatan Rudolph. But Diaz de la Portilla wasn’t present. 

“Melwani again rejected all deals,” the complaint states. 

Between 2020 and 2021, the city commission threw out all the bids in two RFP processes for the hotly contested marina redevelopment project. 

In 2021, city commissioners voted to bypass another competitive bidding process, and put the proposal by Melwani’s Rickenbacker Marina on the ballot. That same year, voters rejected the referendum. 

In February, then-Miami-Dade Judge Alan Fine ordered the city to hold a new referendum asking voters to approve or deny a proposal submitted by a joint venture of RCI Group and Suntex. A date for the new vote has not been set.

Fine ruled that the city showed favoritism for Rickenbacker Marina.