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Ethics Commission delays hearing for arrested Miami commissioner pending criminal case

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust trust agreed on Wednesday to delay a hearing for Miami City Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla while his legal team awaits further details about a separate criminal corruption case that led to his arrest earlier this year.

“A number of items have occurred that the commission is probably aware of,” lawyer Benedict Kuehne, who represents Díaz de la Portilla, told the Ethics Commission at Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m now trying to navigate the criminal case for which Alex Díaz de la Portilla has made clear he is not guilty and determine how to proceed with that case as well as this case.”

In September Díaz de la Portilla was arrested and charged with one count of money laundering, three counts of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, one count of bribery, one count of criminal conspiracy, four counts of official misconduct, one count of campaign contribution in excess of legal limits and two counts of failure to report a gift.

The criminal charges landed about a year after the Ethics Commission unanimously agreed to charge Díaz de la Portilla with violating county ethics law and exploiting his official position after a friend who did not work for the city used a city car to pick up alcohol for the commissioner, drop off his dry cleaning and drive him to a property his family owns in Southwest Miami-Dade.

READ MORE: She drank beers in a city car, ran commissioner’s errands. She still works for Miami

The probable cause finding prompted a hearing before the Ethics Commission, which was scheduled for Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, 2024. Kuehne said it is unlikely that discovery can be completed in time, “largely because of the bringing of the criminal charges.” The commission’s Wednesday vote effectively removed Díaz de la Portilla’s Ethics Commission hearing from the calendar. The parties agreed to a status report on the matter in January.

The commissioner, who Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended in September following his arrest, is also in the the middle of a runoff race to keep his District 1 seat after placing first Tuesday night in a five-candidate field but failing to secure more than 50% of the vote. The governor’s suspension remains in effect.

Kuehne noted that there is a status conference for the criminal case scheduled for next week that will provide “a better idea what the course of action will be.” But he also agreed on Wednesday to waive a requirement that the Ethics Commission hearing be held within 18 months of a probable cause finding. If found guilty of a violation, Díaz de la Portilla could be fined up to $1,000 and issued a public reprimand.

Kuehne said the decision to postpone the hearing does not mean the criminal case takes precedence, telling the Herald: “Both cases deserve respect.”

Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed reporting.