MIAMI — Allies of Democratic congressional candidate Joe Garcia filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to kick GOP candidate David Rivera off the Nov. 2 ballot for filing misleading financial disclosure forms as a state lawmaker.
The suit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, says Rivera should be disqualified from running for office for violating state laws requiring public officials and candidates to file full and complete financial disclosure forms.
For seven years, Rivera, a four-term state representative, declared in his disclosure forms that he was a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development. However, USAID has no record of ever hiring Rivera or his company. On Friday, Rivera amended his disclosure forms to omit USAID as a source of income.
"The misstatements in the Rivera financial disclosure statements are part of a pattern of deception intended to confuse the voters and the public at large," the complaint says. ''Rivera has failed to comply with the most basic statutory requirement of explaining how he makes a living."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Miami attorney William Barzee — who has donated thousands of dollars to Garcia and the Democratic Party over the years — and Maria Teresa Pascual, a voter who lives in Congressional District 25, an area stretching from Miami-Dade to Collier County that Garcia and Rivera are vying to represent.
The suit is being handled by three lawyers, including Coral Gables attorney Roland Sanchez-Medina. Garcia has worked as a consultant for Sanchez-Medina's law firm, records show.
Responding to the suit, Rivera's campaign lashed back at Garcia, declaring that the suit shows that Garcia has "conceded defeat."
"In his fervor to win Garcia will do anything," Rivera's spokeswoman, Leslie Veiga, said in a statement. "Even if it means circumventing the democratic process and suing his way into office."
"The complaint has no merit and we are confident that it will be thrown out," she added.
Garcia's campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, said the campaign worked at "arm's length'' with the lawyers handling the lawsuit.
"Several attorneys and supporters brought the idea to us'' after a Tallahassee judge tossed state Senate candidate Jim Norman off the ballot last week for violating disclosure rules, said Garcia, who is not related to the candidate.
"Folks in the community have been incensed that David is refusing to answer these questions, refusing to divulge where he makes his money and who his employers are."
The allegations in the lawsuit are based largely on the findings of an Oct. 13 Miami Herald article examining Rivera's consulting work. USAID officials told the Herald that the agency had no records showing that Rivera or his consulting company had ever worked for USAID — though Rivera said in his disclosure forms that he received income from USAID from 2003 to 2009.
When first asked about his consulting work, Rivera said he won the USAID contracts through competitive bidding. After learning that USAID had no record of his work, Rivera then said he worked as a subcontractor to other USAID vendors. But Rivera will not disclose the names of these contractors, saying he promised them confidentiality.
On Friday, Rivera amended his disclosure forms, removing any reference to USAID as a source of income for those seven years. His campaign has said he was not required under ethics rules to disclose his work with USAID, and he removed the USAID references "in an abundance of caution."
The amended disclosure forms also erased any mention of another consulting company, Millennium Marketing, with whom Rivera said he worked with from 2003 to 2005. Records show that Rivera's mother is now a partner in Millennium. Rivera also paid the company $30,000 from his campaign account in 2006, records show.
Rivera's amended disclosure forms from 2003 to 2009 now list no outside sources of income for the lawmaker beyond his $30,000 salary as a state representative.
Under Florida's disclosure rules, lawmakers must report the sources of any income exceeding $1,000. Lawmakers also must list any clients who contribute more than 10 percent to their private businesses.
After amending his disclosures, Rivera told the Herald that he did not need to list his consulting clients because they did not meet the state's criteria, though he would not detail which criterion applied in his case.
Rivera also said he was not required to disclose business activity outside the state of Florida. However, the state rules do not exempt out-of-state businesses from disclosure, said Kerrie Stillman, a spokesperson for the Florida Commission on Ethics.
With their lawsuit, Barzee and Pascual are seeking to duplicate the case of Norman, a Republican state Senate candidate from the Tampa area who was thrown off the ballot Friday by a Tallahassee judge for failing to disclose a $500,000 gift.
Norman, a Hillsborough County commissioner, is now appealing Fulford's decision.