Judge recommends ethics probe for former Rep. David Rivera

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Former state Rep. David Rivera inappropriately received state travel reimbursements and failed to disclose financial information, according to the conclusions of an administrative law judge to Florida’s ethics commission.

Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida reports that Judge W. David Watkins, in a recommendation issued Friday, scrutinized the Miami Republican’s use of political campaign funds and personal finances. Watkins suggestions now will go to the Florida Commission on Ethics for a final determination.

Prior to his election to Congress, David Rivera served in the Florida House from 2002 to 2010. After serving a single term in Washington, he lost to Democrat Joe Garcia in the midst of several ethics-related questions. Rivera is currently running to retake Florida’s 26th Congressional District seat.

Watkins noted that, on many occasions, the state reimbursed Rivera for travel expenses paid by his campaign account. Rivera also bundled personal and political expenses as well as state House expenses, using a number credit cards, rather a single credit card set aside for official legislative duties.

“Respondent (David Rivera) personally authorized the travel expenses which were charged to his credit cards,” wrote Watkins in the 37-page document. “He also personally signed and submitted the travel reimbursement requests to the state of Florida. Finally, Respondent also personally signed the campaign account checks used to pay off his credit card balances. Respondent individually, and without the participation of anyone else, personally orchestrated this sequence of events.

“Thus, Respondent knowingly and intentionally received travel reimbursements from the state of Florida to which he was not entitled.”

In court documents filed in April, Rivera’s attorneys dispute that the former congressman did anything wrong, Saunders writes.

“Advocate (the ethics commission’s attorney) did not present any evidence that Respondent filed any false travel reimbursements with the state while serving as a member of the Florida House, nor did she present any evidence that Respondent received reimbursements for state-related travel that should not have been reimbursed,” said the document, which outlines Rivera’s position.

Watkins also called on the ethics board to determine that David Rivera did not fully disclose financial interests on forms for the years between 2005 and 2009, as well as forms required once he left the Florida House.

Watkins pointed out that “for reporting years 2005 through 2009, Respondent had income well in excess of what he reported.”

However, in the April documents, Saunders notes that David Rivera’s attorney contend the former lawmaker “simply left out the details of certain assets,” and later took action to resolve those issues.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.