The Florida Ethics Commission said Wednesday it found "probable cause" to believe that Congressman David Rivera broke the state's ethics laws as a state legislator, jolting his re-election bid less than two weeks before Election Day.
The panel announced that it found probable cause in 11 incidents involving Rivera's time as a state lawmaker from 2002-10. The charges include an array of allegations, including accusations that Rivera received income from a company essentially trying to buy his vote; misused campaign funds; didn't report a company's decision to forgive a debt as a gift; and left information off of financial disclosure reports.
Rivera, a Republican, is currently locked in a battle for his seat against Democratic challenger Joe Garcia, who has made an issue of allegations of corruption that have been lodged against Rivera.
In a statement issued by his campaign, Rivera blasted the timing of the announcement and said the charges that led to the panel's decision originated with political enemies.
"It is no coincidence that these frivolous complaints from two years ago -- one from a major donor to Joe Garcia and another from someone who was convicted of threatening to kill Jeb Bush -- were suddenly acted upon just two weeks before the election," Rivera said. "There is absolutely no legitimate reason for the commission to have acted now on these old politically motivated claims, which have already been dismissed by other authorities, other than to try and influence the outcome of this election for its own agenda."
Some of the accusations deal with a complex web of dealings among Rivera; Miami's Magic City Casino, owned by Southwest Florida Enterprises Inc.; and Rivera's mother's company, Millennium Marketing.
"Probable cause was found to believe that he received income from Southwest Florida Enterprises Inc. (SFEI) while he was a member of the Florida House, when he knew, or with the exercise of reasonable care should have known, it was given to influence his vote or official action," the commission said in a statement.
"Probable cause also was found to believe that his contract with SFEI through Millennium Marketing Inc. (Millennium) would create a frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and his public duties as a Florida House member or would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties," it continued.
Millennium is also the company that forgave a debt to Rivera that the ethics commission says the future congressman failed to report.
The finding of probable cause only deals with whether the allegations, if true, likely amount to a violation of the ethics laws that the commission can pursue. It does not include a ruling on whether the charges are true; that still has to be investigated.
Democrats say they're growing more confident that Garcia will capture the Miami congressional seat.
"Joe Garcia's going to win, since they really can't find David Rivera," said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. "I think he's either in witness protection or in a safe house somewhere."