Trump campaign avoids scandal-plagued former Miami congressman and Rubio pal
MIAMI — Donald Trump’s campaign has struggled for institutional support from the Miami GOP, but its shying away from Republican, scandal-plagued former Congressman David Rivera.
Allies of Rivera — who has weathered multiple state and federal corruption investigations and a Florida ethics commission fine — listed his name as a “special guest” on an invite for a Republican field office opening this Saturday in conjunction with the campaigns of a state Senate candidate he hopes to replace in the Florida House, as well as Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s reelection.
But neither Trump's nor Rubio’s campaign knew anything about the invite.
And Trump’s campaign wanted nothing to do with the unauthorized use of the presidential nominee’s name.
“These guys don’t have the authority to use Donald Trump’s name, particularly David Rivera,” said Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, a top Trump backer in Miami-Dade County. “Trump is the part of law and order, not of illegals and influence peddlers.”
Trump’s campaign had used Rivera in an attack ad during the GOP presidential primary against Rubio, who was friends and roommates with the former congressman. The ad also featured another problematic friend of Rubio’s, former state Rep. Ralph Arza, who was busted in a witness-tampering scheme amid a state House investigation into his use of racist language.
“Rivera was found guilty of ethics violations and is currently under FBI investigation,” Trump’s ad intoned. “Where are these friends today? Spotted on the campaign trail with Marco. Keep Marco and his friends out of the White House.”
Trump tweeted the ad on March 9 with the message: “Keep lightweight Marco and his friends out of the White House.”
Trump easily won the March 15 primary against Rubio, who went on to run for his Senate reelection. Trump lost only one county, Miami-Dade, where numerous top Republican leaders have refused to back him. Rivera, though, has tried to embrace Trump. But so far, Trump is having nothing to do with it.
Trump’s Florida campaign manager, Susie Wiles, didn’t want to discuss the issue in depth but said of the invite that “we knew nothing of the flyer and asked that it be corrected.”
The invite was promptly changed at the insistence of the chairman of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, Nelson Diaz, who had been listed as a “special guest” of the field office along with Rivera. Diaz said it was all an error. The new mailer only invited participants to “support our Republican candidates.” Diaz said the invite was drafted by an unnamed GOP staffer.
Rubio’s campaign would only say that it knew nothing of the invite. Rubio was a longtime friend of Rivera’s as is Diaz, who was once an aide to Rubio in the Florida Legislature. Rubio and Rivera served in the state House together, co-owned a house in Tallahassee and were both elected to Congress in 2010, Rivera to the U.S. House and Rubio to the U.S. Senate.
The two remained friends but slowly drifted apart as Rubio’s political star rose and as ethics problems began to gnaw at Rivera.
As a state legislator, records show, Rivera filed phony financial reports that listed a non-existent company that paid him phantom income. He made money from a gambling referendum in his county but had the cash flow to his mother’s company. When the payment came to light, Rivera argued it was a loan and not a payment. He also appeared to live off campaign money.
The IRS and FBI investigated Rivera but declined to press charges. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement drafted a 52-count indictment against him, but prosecutors opted against charging him. Rivera was ultimately hit with multiple ethics charges but he has continued to fight them all the way to the Florida Supreme Court to avoid paying a $57,800 fine.
In his 2012 congressional reelection bid, Rivera was named twice in open court by a federal prosecutor as an unindicted co-conspirator in a scheme to use secret money to fund a ringer candidate to undermine his hated rival, Democrat Joe Garcia. Two of the conspirators were convicted and one testified against Rivera in a grand jury proceeding, but charges were never brought. The statute of limitations expires in August.
Throughout, Rivera has maintained his innocence — although he repeatedly and falsely said he wasn’t under investigation when he knew he was.
Rivera lost his 2012 race to Garcia and ran again for congress in 2014 in a crowded GOP field that included Palomares-Starbuck. The contest was ultimately won by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
Rivera decided to run this year for state House 118, where he now faces Democrat Robert Asencio, who served for 26 years as a Miami-Dade schools police officer and a public-corruption and internal-affairs investigator before he retired with the rank of captain.
Like Trump in his primary fight against Rubio where he mentioned Rivera, Asencio said ethics will “play a big role” in his race against Rivera.
“I get a sense from what the voters that told me is that they’re tired of the corruption in politics and that’s the feedback I’ve gotten,” Asencio said. “We deserve representatives who represent the people over special interests.”