Meet William Riley Jr., Alex Diaz de la Portilla’s alleged bagman
Lawyer-lobbyist-commercial broker was criminally charged alongside Miami commissioner
Until last week, William Riley Jr. was a largely unknown land use lawyer representing a handful of developers and property owners before the city of Miami. He also hung his commercial real estate license with a brokerage linked to the mayors of Coral Gables and Hialeah.
On Thursday, following his arrest on bribery, money laundering and other charges alongside Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Riley became a household name in the annals of political scandals that have come to define Magic City corruption.
Riley allegedly funneled illegal payments and campaign contributions to Diaz de la Portilla in exchange for the city commissioner allegedly doing favors for his biggest clients, anti-vax power couple David and Leila Centner, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrest affidavit. The Centners have denied any wrongdoing.
Riley and his defense lawyer Kendall Coffey declined to respond to questions. In a previous statement, Coffey claimed the criminal charges against his client “reflect an unfortunate attempt to criminalize entirely legal lobbying and fundraising activities.”
Riley was a broker with Rosa Commercial Real Estate
From 2020 until Sept 14, the day he was arrested, Riley was a licensed broker with Coral Gables-based Rosa Commercial Real Estate. Owner, lawyer and commercial broker Oscar de la Rosa told The Real Deal he cut ties with Riley as soon as he learned about the criminal charges. De la Rosa is also an ex-Hialeah council member.
“It’s pretty obvious,” de la Rosa said. “News came to me that he committed a felony so I had him removed from the company.”
De la Rosa’s step-dad, Hialeah Mayor Esteban “Steve” Bovo, is also a licensed real estate agent registered with Rosa Commercial Real Estate, state business licensing records show. In addition, Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago and Chelsea Granell, his chief of staff at the city, are licensed with the same brokerage.
Last year, Rosa Commercial Real Estate netted a $640,000 commission for brokering the $35.6 million sale of a Coral Gables development site to embattled real estate firm Location Ventures, led at the time by Rishi Kapoor. At the time, the brokerage represented the seller, the Hollo family’s Florida East Coast Realty.
Lago abstained from voting on matters related to the property at 1505 Ponce de Leon Boulevard due to Rosa Commercial’s involvement. But the mayor then worked behind the scenes at City Hall to help Location Ventures land a separate deal to possibly develop a parking lot owned by Coral Gables, the Miami Herald reported.
Conflict representing the Centners, donations to PACs
In 2018, Riley began representing Centner Academy, the private school owned by David and Leila Centner. At the time, the married couple had recently purchased a Mediterranean-style, three-story building in the Miami Design District that was the first Centner Academy school building. Since then, Centner Academy expanded with two more school buildings in Miami’s Arts & Entertainment District and the Wynwood Norte neighborhood.
In 2019, Riley left the Miami office of law firm Greenspoon Marder. His resignation was linked to a potential conflict of interest over his representation of Centner Academy, according to the Daily Business Review. Neighbors of the school claimed Riley had a conflict of interest because Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was also employed by the same law firm. Riley disputed that it played a role in his decision to exit Greenspoon Marder, claiming that he had been planning to start his own law firm. Suarez left Greenspoon Marder two years later.
David and Leila Centner drew national scrutiny during the pandemic when they threatened to
fire teachers who received the Covid-19 vaccine, and mandated that students quarantine if they received the vaccine. The couple eventually reversed their controversial policies.
Between 2020 and last year, Riley registered to lobby on behalf of the Centners on two other projects. He was retained by the couple to obtain development entitlements for properties at 3465 Northwest Second Avenue and 136 Northwest 35th Street where Centner Academy is currently building its Wynwood Norte campus, city records show.
The Centners also hired Riley to secure the city’s approval of a license agreement allowing them to build a $10 million recreation center in Biscayne Park at 150 Northeast 19th Street. The 7.3-acre park is adjacent to the Centner Academy school in Miami’s Arts & Entertainment District.
Riley allegedly earned $500,000 a year as the Centner’s in-house counsel and lobbyist, as well as being reimbursed thousands of dollars by the couple to cover expenses related to entertaining Diaz de la Portilla, the FDLE affidavit states.
As part of the alleged scheme to pay off Diaz de la Portilla, Riley formed and solely managed a company called Pristine DE that acted as a pass through for $245,000 in donations from a Centner controlled trust to a pair of political action committees affiliated with the city commissioner, the arrest affidavit states.
However, Pristine DE also doled out campaign checks to PACs supporting other local politicians, according to a recent analysis of campaign finance reports by Miami-based transit activist Dani Rivera. Between 2020 through July, Pristine DE made a combined $556,000 in PAC contributions.
Pristine DE donated $25,000 to a committee controlled by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, $30,000 to a committee controlled by Miami-Dade Commissioner Kevin Cabrera and $20,000 to a federal Republican SuperPAC called Defeating Communism.
Riley’s other clients
As a lobbyist, Riley has represented Courtney Properties, led by Henry Courtney; Riverside Miami LLC; Safariland; and Wynwood Works, the affordable housing project being co-developed by Magellan Housing and Udonis Haslem currently under construction in Wynwood, city lobbyist registration records show.
Last year, Riley represented Wynwood Works when the firm sought an extension for the closing of an agreement between Miami’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency and the Magellan and Haslem joint venture for a half-acre city-owned site. In June, Wynwood Works and the CRA finalized the deal for a 12-story affordable housing project.
In 2021, Riley represented a partnership between New York-based Posner Group and Miami Beach builders Todd Michael Glaser and i3 Development, led by Alan I. Amdur. The joint venture obtained city approvals to build a Little Havana mixed-use project anchored by a Ross Dress for Less and an Aldi Supermarket, and featuring a 278-unit apartment component.
In July, the partnership sold the development site to Brookstone Partners, an affiliate of The Cornerstone Group, for $15 million.
Katherine Kallergis contributed to this report.