Miami commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla arrested for bribery, money laundering

City politico allegedly accepted $15K in payments tied to brother’s judicial campaign

Alex Diaz de la Portilla Arrested on Bribery, Money Laundering
Miami city commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla (Getty; Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

A week after he was accused of shaking down a city marina operator in a civil lawsuit, Miami city commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla was arrested on Thursday and criminally charged for a laundry list of allegedly corrupt actions in connection with his younger brother’s failed judicial campaign last year. 

The criminal charges involve Diaz de la Portilla allegedly receiving unreported campaign contributions in exchange for granting permission to an unnamed company that wants to build an unidentified sports complex in Miami. 

Thursday afternoon, Diaz de la Portilla surrendered to Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents. During a city commission meeting Thursday morning, Diaz de la Portilla allegedly slipped out of Miami City Hall at 3500 Pan American Drive when officers came looking for him, according to BecauseMiami, a political account on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. 

Diaz de la Portilla is facing multiple felony counts, including bribery, money laundering, criminal conspiracy, official misconduct, failure to report a gift, accepting a campaign contribution in excess of legal limits and unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, according to an FDLE press release. Diaz de la Portilla is being held on a $72,000 bond.

Also arrested: Miami attorney William Riley Jr. on felony charges of bribery, money laundering, criminal conspiracy, and unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior. His bond was set at $46,000.

During an investigation, FDLE agents uncovered evidence indicating Diaz de la Portilla and Riley Jr. failed to report more than $15,000 in payments they received tied to Renier Diaz de la Portilla’s failed bid to unseat Miami-Dade County Judge Fred Seraphin in last year’s county election, the release states. 

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Investigators also found that Riley controlled a bank account for a Delaware-based company that allegedly laundered about $245,000 in concealed political contributions made by a company in exchange for permission to build a sports complex in the city, according to the release. 

While FDLE has not disclosed the identities of the individuals who own the company, last year Diaz de la Portilla sponsored an item approved by the city commission to award Miami-based Centner Academy a license agreement to build a state-of-the-art recreational facility in Biscayne Park at 150 Northeast 19th Street, according to the blog Political Cortadito. The deal calls for Centner Academy to spend no less than $10 million to develop the facility, pay the city 50 percent of the facility’s revenues and use the other 50 percent to provide maintenance and security for the first 10 years of the agreement. 

In exchange, Centner Academy, which is owned by Miami Beach power couple David and Leila Centner, gets partial exclusive use of the facility. Diaz de la Portilla also sponsored changes in zoning to properties the Centners own around their school building at 4136 North Miami Avenue. At the time, Riley was Centner Academy’s lobbyist. 

The Centners’ attorney/spokesperson did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

According to the release, Diaz de la Portilla also operated and controlled two political action committees that raised a combined $3.1 million for his brother’s judicial campaign, but that the commissioner also used for personal expenditures, FDLE alleges. 

The criminal charges against Diaz de la Portilla come on the heels of a civil lawsuit filed by his former friend and lobbyist Manuel Prieguez. In his complaint, Prieguez alleged that Diaz de la Portilla and two associates, Humberto “Bert” Hernandez and Anibal Duarte-Viera, attempted to force him and an ex-client, Rickenbacker Marina President Aabad Melwani, to include Duarte-Viera in a proposed deal to redevelop the marina in 2020. 

Prieguez claims that he and Melwani refused to go along with the alleged shakedown. 

Diaz de la Portilla’s arrest is the latest scandal to rock Miami government. Miami-Dade’s state attorney and ethics commission are investigating Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s $10,000-a-month private consulting gig with Location Ventures, a Coral Gables-based development firm that is in the midst of shutting down after being hit with a wave of lawsuits. The FBI is also conducting a public corruption probe into Suarez’s dealings with Location Ventures’ former CEO Rishi Kapoor. 

In June, Little Havana developers Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla won a $63 million verdict against Miami city commissioner Joe Carollo after a federal jury found that the elected official abused his position to target their properties and their businesses. 

Katherine Kallergis contributed to this report.