Ethics commission is investigating Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s work for a developer
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has opened an investigation into Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s work for developer Rishi Kapoor, following a Miami Herald report that Kapoor’s corporate documents show he sought the mayor’s help to resolve issues involving critical permits for a $70 million project in Coconut Grove.
The ethics commission review is being done in coordination with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, according to a statement from State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
“We have consulted with the Executive Director of the Ethics Commission, Jose Arrojo,” Rundle wrote. “We will coordinate our review of the allegations with them. At this early stage, it is premature for us to opine on the allegations.”
In a statement, the mayor’s spokesperson, Soledad Cedro, said Suarez welcomed the news of the investigation.
“The Mayor is looking forward to fully cooperating with the ethics commission to expose the truth and demonstrate that this is nothing but a frivolous smear campaign launched by The Miami Herald, a media outlet with a long and self-documented history of attempting to assassinate the character of Hispanic elected leaders who have successfully served their communities,” Cedro wrote.
Kapoor did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the investigation.
On Tuesday, the Herald first reported that corporate internal records state Kapoor, CEO of real estate company Location Ventures, tapped Suarez to help push a stalled permitting process along for a project on Commodore Plaza last year.
Internal meeting notes document that Kapoor met with Suarez and the city manager to “discuss the permitting problems” last summer. Internal financial statements show Kapoor paid Suarez at least $170,000 since 2021.
Suarez’s work for Kapoor came to light last week when the Herald reported on a lawsuit filed by the developer’s former chief financial officer, who noted that Suarez was receiving monthly $10,000 payments for “unknown services.”
Kapoor previously told the Herald that Suarez has consulted for Location Ventures’ affiliate, URBIN, by “providing feedback on programming” and the company’s efforts to bring housing to urban markets. Kapoor’s attorneys, in a filing responding to former CFO Greg Brooks’ lawsuit, said the agreement was reviewed and approved by City Attorney Victoria Méndez.
Méndez, however, disputed that on Thursday, saying she never reviewed the contract.
Suarez stormed away from reporters Thursday morning as they questioned him in City Hall about his work for Kapoor. But immediately after disappearing into his office, the mayor returned to lambaste the Herald and called the reporting “inaccurate.”
Suarez again denied meeting with Kapoor and City Manager Art Noriega.
“I’m telling you the meeting did not happen,” Suarez said.
Suarez, an attorney with private clients who receives $130,000 in compensation to serve as mayor, refused to answer questions about conflicts of interest and his private business ventures. At the same time, he declined to provide his contract with URBIN, the Location Ventures subsidiary paying him as a consultant, or any further information about his work for Kapoor.
In keeping with his past refusals, he also said he would not disclose his list of private clients. He has repeatedly said that if there were a conflict of interest he would be transparent.
“I disclose everything in accordance with the law, we always have, we always will, despite your allegations, falsely, that we don’t disclose it properly,” Suarez said.
In an interview Thursday with the Herald, Noriega also denied that he ever met with Suarez and the developer about the project. The city manager said any developer with a zoning issue wouldn’t need to go through the mayor to reach him.
“They come to me directly,” Noriega told the Herald. “They don’t need to go through the mayor. I have communication with developers, private citizens constantly.”
When asked why he was referenced in Location Ventures’ internal records, the city manager said he didn’t know, but said it is not uncommon for people to overstate their relationships with city officials in an effort to fast-track zoning approvals. He said he never met with Kapoor regarding the Coconut Grove project last year.
Noriega said he didn’t know Suarez was being paid by the developer until he read a Herald report last week.
He said he doesn’t know who’s on Suarez’s private client list, and he doesn’t want to know. He said it’s not his responsibility to ask elected officials about potential conflicts of interest on projects they discuss with him.
Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.