Rivera (Alan Diaz/AP)Even as more sensational scandals upended the careers of "Craigslist Congressman" Chris Lee and Twitter-pic- happy Anthony Weiner, an ethics scandal involving reported criminal probes has been dogging freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) for many months.
Today, we learn via the Miami Herald that Rivera's ethics issues appear to be deepening.
Investigators have now launched a second criminal probe into the congressman's connections to a casino contract, the newspaper reports. Sources familiar with the investigation say the FBI and IRS are already interviewing witnesses in the case, which involves an undisclosed $1 million consulting contract between a dog track--now called Magic City Casino--and a company co-owned by Rivera's mother. The agencies "appear to be examining federal tax-evasion charges," the paper reports.
Last fall, while Rivera, then a state representative, was running for Congress, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was reportedly investigating allegations that he failed to disclose more than $130,000 in loans from Millennium Marketing--the company co-owned by his mother. The company was also reportedly under criminal investigation for failing to disclose payments to bring slot machines to Miami-Dade county. Rivera as a state lawmaker in 2008 pushed pro-slot legislation.
Following his election win, Rivera announced he had received more than $130,000 in previously undisclosed loans from Millennium. That belated disclosure, paired with the early reports of inquiries into his alleged casino ties, sparked speculation that Rivera would resign or be forced to resign less than one month into his first term.
Rivera has repeatedly stated his innocence and says this week's report from the Herald is false.
"The Miami Herald story is a recycling of the same old, false, misleading, unattributed, and unsubstantiated reporting that has characterized their coverage thus far," the campaign wrote in an email statement to The Ticket. "Contrary to the Herald's insinuation, Congressman Rivera has not been contacted by the FBI or IRS on any matter whatsoever."
Some congressional GOP leaders have stood behind Rivera, saying the scandal concerns activities that occurred prior to his service in the House. National Republican Congressional Campaign committee chair Pete Sessions in March praised Rivera for doing a "very good job" in Congress. House Speaker John Boehner said back in January that he was "waiting to see how this plays out," also noting that the inquiries are focusing on issues that arose before the time of Rivera's election. (Boehner's office did not immediately respond to The Ticket's request for comment Friday.)
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in February he was "very concerned" about the criminal probe and chose not to make contact with Rivera during a February visit to Miami.
That's why it was notable that a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraising invitation touting a dinner with every GOP Florida member and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor left Rivera off the list. The Herald posted the invitation on Monday, noting the omission.
But the committee said later this week that Rivera's absence was inadvertent and have issued a revised invite that includes his name.