Miami-based Congressman David Rivera won't be charged with a state crime in Florida following a more than yearlong investigation of the Republican's finances, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
A 16-page memo released by Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle concluded that law enforcement officials "have exhausted all active criminal investigative avenues" and closed the case despite lingering questions.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement last year identified "potential ethical violations" by Rivera, including that he as a state representative sought to hide a $1 million contract with a Florida gambling company. It also said he used campaign funds to pay for Florida House of Representatives activities already reimbursed by the state. The report, which was sent last July to the Miami-Dade state attorney's office, was released to news organizations this week.
Although state prosecutors found no criminal violations, Rivera still faces a federal probe. The freshman congressman's maiden campaign drew national attention because his heavily Latino 25th Congressional District in South Florida was considered one of the few in the nation up for grabs between the two major parties in 2010.
Rivera, a Republican, told Telemundo 51 Tuesday night, before the release of Rundle’s closeout memo, that he has “always respected all state and federal laws in both my personal finances and in my political campaigns.”
“I sincerely thank all the support of everyone who has always kept their faith and trust in my personal and professional integrity and honesty. I will continue to work hard in favor of the best interest of our community,” he said in a statement in Spanish that was translated into English.
Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, declined to comment on the federal case Wednesday.
Rivera called the investigation a fishing expedition that became a wild goose chase.
"As he has always maintained, Congressman Rivera has at all times acted in compliance with both the letter and spirit of Florida and federal campaign finance laws and has timely and properly reported all personal income," Rivera's campaign said in a statement to the AP.
"Any funds raised and spent in relation to Congressman Rivera's campaigns for the State House, Republican State Executive Committee, or U.S. Congress, were done with the strictest adherence to all applicable legal standards," the statement continued. "Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false."
Rivera said that following its July report, "FDLE was provided with specific and detailed information refuting all of their false and unfounded allegations against Congressman Rivera."
Allegations involving Rivera's campaign finances first surfaced at the close of the 2010 congressional campaign, but they mostly related to earlier state campaigns.
FDLE's report states that even though Rivera did vote on multiple pieces of legislation directly affecting the company with whom he had a contract, his activities did not violate Florida's unlawful compensation law.
"However, the investigation did identify potential ethical violations based upon Mr. Rivera's behavior and intent. Mr. Rivera may not have solicited and/or received any pecuniary benefit for acting within his capacity as a public official, but he did take steps to disguise his relationship with a special interest group," the report said.
The report also found more than $65,000 in credit card charges that appeared to be for personal expenses but that were paid for with campaign funds. Those included "pet services, dry cleaning, dental care, medical services, entertainment and travel expenses for his girlfriend," the report said.
The separate memo by prosecutors cited other questionable transactions and expenses, including Rivera's explanation that he needed his girlfriend at his side at campaign events.
"As a single man running as a political conservative, it was necessary for him to appear at campaign related events with a female escort," the memo quoted Rivera as saying, continuing that he maintained "it was appropriate and permissible to pay for his female companion's expenses as well, as they were essential to his election campaigns."
The FDLE closed its investigation on April 4. The prosecutors' memo, dated Tuesday and released Wednesday, concluded in some cases that charges could not be brought because the two-year statute of limitations had expired.
Prosecutors said they and police “have exhausted all active criminal investigative avenues” for the allegations, but noted, “As part of this inquiry we have been confronted with the fact that an elected official over a period of many years may essentially live off of a combination of contributions made in support of public office candidacies, contributions made in support of internal political party position candidacies, and indirect payments made as consideration for efforts as a political strategist while avoiding penal sanction.”
Florida Democrats on Wednesday were quick to point out that Rivera was still under investigation by the FBI and IRS.
"He's still failing to raise money," Florida Democratic Party spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement. "He still doesn't have the support of the GOP. He's still on the wrong side of the issues that matter to Florida's middle class, and we're still going to win FL-26."
Still, Democrats have had a tough time recruiting candidates to run against Rivera this year. A former fire chief-turned-state lawmaker dropped out of the race after the party criticized his fundraising efforts. The current Democratic candidate lives outside the district and has never run for public office before.