By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — In 2007, three years before Luigi Boria was elected mayor of Doral, a boutique South Florida developer bought and rezoned a 12-acre parcel of land to build an enclave of single-family homes with a smattering of commercial spaces.
The project was named Grand Floridian Estates.
It seemed like a sensible project for the growing city whose proximity to an international airport made it home to many export and import companies.
Unfortunately, the 2008 economic crisis brought the housing market crashing down. More than $10 million in overdue principal, interest and fees dashed the developer’s plans of bringing the mixed-use development to the area.
LUXURY DEVELOPMENT: The asking price for pre-construction homes at IVI at Doral start at $1 million.
But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the project took on a new and even more lucrative life when Boria was elected mayor of Doral, a town of about 50,000 people in north-central Miami-Dade County.
Boria’s son, Alexander Boria, his daughter, Maria Lorena Boria, and a former business client, Juan Carlos Tovar, planned to buy the property land.
Together, the three formed a limited-liability corporation, Great Floridian at Doral, to buy the foreclosed property. The Boria children used money that was “gifted” to them by their father, the mayor, according to a Commission of Ethics report.
Later, the Grand Floridian developers purchased an adjoining five-acre parcel with hopes of rezoning it and fusing the two tracts to push the total number of homes that could be built from 41 to 66.
With both property deals inked, the group headed to Doral City Hall seeking to have the property rezoned. The developers were anxious to break ground on their plan to build a gated community of luxury homes and market them to wealthy families in Venezuela.
But there was a minor problem. Doral requires two votes for zoning changes. Boria recused himself from the first vote in February to avoid a conflict of interest.
The second vote was delayed six months after the mayor requested an opinion from the Miami Ethics Commission on whether his voting constituted a breach in ethics.
After the first vote, and before the second, Alexander and his sister sold their stake of Grand Floridian to their partner, Tovar, who changed the name of the development to IVI at Doral.
When Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz, then vice-mayor, requested more technical information on the project before the first vote, Boria demoted her to councilwoman for having “hindered (the city’s) management.”
“They never gave me an explanation of why I was dismissed,” she told Florida Watchdog. “I cannot say it was because I requested more information in the first instance of the vote, but it happened right around that time.”
With Alexander Boria and his sister out of the picture, the mayor apparently was ready to regain his voting privileges on the project. But Boria’s children still have ties to ex-partner Tovar. In fact, using money “gifts” from their father, the two lent Tovar $8 million, which enabled him to purchase their ownership interests in the development company, according to the Ethics Commission.
FIGHTING BACK: Joe Carollo, former administrator at the City of Doral, is now saying his former boss is connected with the Venezuela government.
That could be a problem. The Code of Ethics require elected officials in Doral to avoid “taking any official action directly or indirectly affecting an entity in which he or she, a debtor, or his immediate family members have a financial interest.”
Boria, who said he normally “gifts” his children $13,000 per year for tax purposes, claims he has no control over what his adult children do with the money he gives them.
“What they did with the money is their business,” he told the Miami Herald. “Once I give them the money, it’s theirs.”
The “gifts,” meanwhile, kept on giving, in the form of a property tax reduction.
Before the first zoning hearing in June 2013, the council approved a lower millage rate. That rate, set at 1.928 mils for each $1,000 of taxable property value, is the second lowest in the county. The average millage rate in Miami-Dade County is about 5.192 mils.
The council ultimately approved the development in September 2013.
Florida Watchdog tried to get in touch with other Doral council members, but they didn’t respond to our requests for interviews.
Intrigue, lies and mystery
This isn’t the first time Doral has been in the media spotlight. After Joe Carollo was fired as Doral’s city manager two weeks ago, the infighting has been taken to new heights.
Carollo said he promised to expose Boria, and he is making good on the threat.
On May 5, Carollo held a news conference in Coral Gables, where he denounced Boria for allegedly lying on his financial statement and allegedly concealing information about three Venezuelan government supply companies with which he’s allegedly involved.
Carollo said his dismissal was “illegal” because he was cooperating with authorities.
“I have a clause that protects me when cooperating with federal authorities. However, I was fired. But I don’t rule out exercising some actions to regain my position,” he said.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.