Federal authorities are interviewing witnesses in connection with an investigation into possible tax evasion by South Florida U.S. Rep. David Rivera, people with knowledge of the investigation said Friday.
FBI and IRS agents are looking at whether taxes were paid on a secret $1 million contract Rivera signed in 2006 to manage a successful campaign to expand gambling in Miami-Dade County, attorneys told The Associated Press. State officials are also investigating Rivera's state campaign and personal finances.
Among those being interviewed is attorney Lori Weems, who helped draw up a contract between the owners of the Flagler Dog Track - now known as the Magic City Casino - and a company linked to Rivera. Rivera signed the contract but has denied receiving any money from the deal.
The company linked to Rivera was started by his mother, then run by a family friend who later rehired his mother as vice president.
Weems declined comment, though her attorney, Andres Rivero, told the AP she would be interviewed by agents Monday. Weems now works as a lobbyist in Tallahassee.
"We have been advised by law enforcement that she's a witness," he told The Associated Press on Friday.
Rivero said investigators are interviewing at least five other people as witnesses.
The Justice Department and the Miami U.S. attorney's office on Friday would neither confirm nor deny an investigation into Rivera's finances. The FBI and IRS also declined comment.
The investigation was first reported by The Miami Herald and WFOR-TV.
In an email sent from his campaign, Rivera reiterated previous statements that he had not been contacted by the FBI or the IRS. He did not respond to further email or telephone inquiries.
Another recent email from Rivera said he was looking forward to campaigning for re-election in 2012.
Bob Martinez, an attorney for Magic City Casino, said casino officials are cooperating with authorities.
"We have been fully cooperative with all law enforcement investigations and continue to cooperate with them, and we have been told by law enforcement our clients are merely potential witnesses," he told the AP Friday. "Our clients are not targets, subjects or focus points of the investigation at all."
The Miami congressman was clearly chosen by Magic City Casino's owners to run the multi-million dollar campaign to bring Las Vegas-style slot machines to the county, according to the contract. Rivera, 45, or his mother's company would have had to pay taxes on any income received.
Rivera's mother, 70-year-old Daisy Margarino, opened Millennium Marketing Strategies in 2000, but the firm became inactive in 2005. It was reopened as Millenium Marketing Inc. in 2006 by his mother's close friend Ileana Medina, 61, who helps manage a condominium in a middle-class, southwest Miami neighborhood.
Margarino was rehired as the company's vice president in 2008, shortly after the firm received its final payment for the work on the gambling campaign. It was unclear whether the firm ever asked for or sought a final bonus payment that had been promised if the slots campaign passed.
Rivera has a $150,000 debt from his 2010 campaign and has been struggling to raise money. He raised about $35,000 last quarter, about $10,000 of which came from his mother and Medina.
Rivera first drew attention to his finances as a four-term state legislator making less than $30,000 a year. He had repeatedly listed the federal economic development agency USAID as a source of outside income on his state financial disclosure forms and sidestepped questions about his work for the agency.
He eventually said he'd done work as a subcontractor for a Puerto Rican company he owned, but USAID had no records of either Rivera or the company. Employees at another company he listed also said he'd never worked for that firm.
Rivera came under more scrutiny when local media first reported the gambling deal. As that story went to print, Rivera quietly amended his federal campaign disclosures to report a $132,000 loan from the company. He said he did not initially think he was required to disclose the loan, which he paid back after winning the 2010 election by transferring one of his properties to his mother's company.
Democrats are setting their sights on Rivera's district, with one candidate so far pledging to run. The district stretches across South Florida into the Everglades. It leans Republican, but it is roughly evenly divided among Democrats, Independents and Republicans and will likely be reshaped when district lines are re-drawn based on the 2010 Census.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/07/22/2326388/feds-interview-witnesses-in-connection.html#ixzz1SwRmmxwp
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.