It was a Nixonesque moment — a politician asked about questionable campaign tactics — when Michael Grieco told the Miami Herald to “look right into my soul.”
Greico, a first-time commissioner elected in 2013, handed in his resignation at City Hall on Oct. 24. He faced a charge of accepting an illegal campaign contribution, but he avoided admitting guilt and said he didn’t do it.
“Effective immediately, I tender my resignation as Group 2 commissioner for the remaining two weeks of my term. Serving our great city of Miami Beach has been my greatest honor. Thank you for giving me that opportunity,” he said in a resignation email to city officials.
In an interview with Channel 10, he said he was "happy to put this behind" him and "looking forward to the next chapter."
That next chapter may well include public office again. Grieco didn't admit any guilt and can run for office again in one year.
“It is sad to see a young public servant tumble, but there are no special exceptions to Florida’s elections laws,” a statement from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. “Masking the source of a campaign donation is not only illegal but denigrates the importance of transparency. Our citizens deserve better from all of those who seek public office.”
Just months ago, Grieco had eyes on the mayor's office. He denied any involvement in a political action committee for which public records showed he had filled out the paperwork. By July he had quit the race for mayor. Then in September he ended his commission reelection campaign.
WLRN's Tom Hudson spoke with Miami Herald reporters Joey Flechas and Nicholas Nehamas on the Florida Roundup about how the popular mayoral candidate fell from grace within a matter of months. Here are the highlights of the conversation:
WLRN: What charges did Grieco face?
Nehamas: Grieco faced a rather narrow charge of knowingly accepting a campaign contribution made in the name of another person.
And what was it that made that contribution illegal?
Nehamas: It was made in the name of a luxury real estate agent broker in Miami by the name of Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche, but it was not his money. The funds actually came from a Norwegian millionaire. Both men are friends of former Commissioner Grieco. He gave the money to Tellaheche and then the money was given to the political action committee that was helping Grieco run for mayor.
They charged him with a violation of Florida’s campaign finance laws. It simply says that if you give money to a political candidate or a committee it has to be your money.
Describe the scale of this saga from June when you and Nick first began reporting on the then commissioner and mayoral candidate’s involvement with this political action committee to this week with the no contest plea.
Flechas: There had been rumors that Michael Grieco had been active with the political action committee that was raising money from city vendors, lobbyists and real estate developers. That alone in the city of Miami Beach is an issue for voters. They’re very sensitive to where money comes from and how that influences politics in the municipal arena. We started looking into it because we got tips … about where this money was coming from and how it was tied to people who do business with the city. That’s where we started. And then it took a turn when the state attorney got involved and started investigating.
Describe Grieco’s governing style.
Flechas: Grieco was known in Miami Beach for being a pothole commissioner. If something was going on in your neighborhood, if that street light at your corner was flickering and you really wanted somebody to respond to you at 2 in the morning when you noticed it, Michael Grieco was known for being the guy who you texted.
What about any potential charges to the source of the money, the illegal finance contribution, the Norwegian or the real estate broker?
Nehamas: They were treated as cooperating witnesses and were given a form of limited immunity in exchange for their sworn statements, so they were in essence flipped to go against the real target of the investigation, Michael Grieco.
What kind of evidence did prosecutors have and starkly, why go for the non contest plea?
Nehamas: They had emails between the gentleman and a couple other people showing how this plan was formulated to donate this foreign money. But it seems like the prosecutors didn’t necessarily feel they had evidence that would win over a jury if this went to trial. There’s a little wiggle room in the emails. Mike Grieco said he didn’t know that the money that ultimately came from Tony was the same that he had been discussing with Petter Hagland earlier, even though the donations were just a month apart. But Hagland and Rodriguez-Tellaheche gave sworn statements, however, that Grieco had directed this, knew exactly what was going on, knew exactly where the source of the money was.
The next election cycle in Miami Beach is 2019. And he will be eligible to run.
Flechas: That’s right and he has at most a year on probation and is expected to take an ethics and campaign finance class that could actually get him off probation in six months.