The Weekly Dirt: Allegations of bribery, money laundering hit Miami City Hall

An analysis of South Florida's top real estate news

The Real Deal Weekly Dirt:
From left: Leila and David Centner; Alex Diaz de la Portilla; William Riley Jr. (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty, Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department)

It was a wild news week in Miami — more so than usual, I promise. 

On Monday, we started with the scoop revealing Lionel Messi’s purchase of a waterfront mansion in Fort Lauderdale.

And by Thursday, a commissioner and prominent land use attorney found themselves in jail (later released on bond). Miami city commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla was arrested on felony charges of 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. 

Diaz de la Portilla, who allegedly slipped out of Miami City Hall following a commission meeting prior to his arrest, wasn’t alone. Lobbyist and attorney William Riley Jr. is also facing felony charges of bribery, money laundering, criminal conspiracy and unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior. (Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Diaz de la Portilla from office late Friday.)

And, of course, it all ties back to real estate. In the arrest affidavit, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement outlines details of the alleged crimes and confirms our initial reporting tying the unnamed development mentioned in the initial press release to private school operators David and Leila Centner. Riley, the Centners’ lobbyist, directed $245,000 from the Centners to political action committees supporting the judicial campaign for Diaz de la Portilla’s brother, Renier, FDLE alleges. 

This all allegedly occurred as the Centners were negotiating a no-bid deal to build a sports complex on the city’s Biscayne Park, located across the street from Centner Academy’s middle and high school campus. My colleague Francisco Alvarado delves into it here.  

Remember, Diaz de la Portilla’s arrest follows other scandals at Miami City Hall, including the reveal of Mayor Francis Suarez’s side hustle for now-embattled developer Rishi Kapoor, one of a number of reasons real estate’s favorite mayor is under investigation. 

Also, this summer, a jury found commissioner Joe Carollo guilty of violating the first amendment rights of real estate investors Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla, earning them $63 million in damages following their five-year-long fight against Carollo. The commissioner waged an aggressive code enforcement campaign against their buildings and businesses in the historic Little Havana neighborhood. 

What we’re thinking about: I keep asking this, but who is next? Send me a note at kk@therealdeal.com

CLOSING TIME 

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Residential: Fausto Muñíz Patiño, a human resources mogul (such a thing exists) from Mexico, sold his Coconut Grove penthouse for a record $19.3 million. A Delaware entity purchased the lower penthouse unit in the south tower of Grove at Grand Bay. 

Commercial: Ashcroft Capital paid $70.4 million for the 360-unit apartment complex at 4142 Cocoplum Circle in Coconut Creek. Advenur sold the nearly 33-acre property, which includes 45 two-story apartment buildings. 

— Research by Adam Farence 

The Real Deal Weekly Dirt:
Rama Raju Mantena with his oceanfront estate

NEW TO THE MARKET 

The beachfront mansion at 1400 South Ocean Boulevard in Manalapan hit the market for $65 million, months after it sold for $48.4 million. Rama Raju Mantena, CEO of a health care company, and his wife Padmaja Mantena acquired the seven-bedroom, nine-and-a-half-bathroom estate in January. The 16,174-square-foot home, which sits on a 1.8-acre lot, is listed with Mark Griffin of One Sotheby’s International Realty. The property includes more than 200 feet on the ocean and another 200 feet on the Intracoastal Waterway, a dock and a separate guest house. 

A thing we’ve learned 

Around 1910, the late Frank Shutts brokered a land sale between the late John Collins and Carl Fisher that gave Fisher about 200 acres of oceanfront land and Collins the funds to complete a bridge connecting the mainland to the beach, according to the book “Bubble in the Sun,” which I am quickly working my way through. You may recognize Shutts’ name — he founded the law firm Shutts & Bowen and was publisher of the Miami Herald. 

Elsewhere in Florida 

  • Surfside commissioners bickered for hours at their meeting last week, which stretched until 2 a.m. The commission voted against commissioner Nelly Velazquez’s item that would have condemned the town’s planning and zoning board’s vote supporting Damac Development’s plan for the collapse site. The proposal drew ire from some because it included trash pickup next to the planned memorial. 
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is advising Floridians under the age of 65 to not get the new Covid boosters from Pfizer and Moderna, in opposition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations, according to NBC. 
  • Hurricane Idalia resulted in the spills and dumping of at least 26,000 gallons of primarily raw sewage into Tampa Bay and other parts of the state affected by the storm, the Orlando Sentinel reports.