Miami Beach voters are no strangers to shady election scuffles, but one commission race has now entered only-in-Florida bizarre territory, with one candidate sending out hundreds of mailers about charges that his opponent had battered a security guard — but neglecting to redact his Social Security number from the police reports.
Those mailers have now sparked a lawsuit, charges of invasion of privacy, an emergency judge's order, and even a police investigation into allegations that the candidate struck a process server with his car.
At the center of the battle are Mark Weithorn, who is running for his term-limited wife Deede's spot, and his opponent, entrepreneur Ricky Arriola.
"I'm going to press forward with this lawsuit because I think the guy is sleazy and he can't be allowed to do this to people," says Arriola.
"Ricky is a criminal who struck a security guard," Weithorn counters.
The legal tussle between the candidates dates to earlier this month when Weithorn began sending out a series of mailers in Spanish with the headline "¿Podemos realmente confiar en el niñito Ricky siendo un comisionado de la ciudad?" (Can we really trust the little boy Ricky to be a city commissioner?)
Those were followed on October 20 by a similar TV ad. Both used un-redacted 2009 police reports of an incident when a security guard at Arriola's South Beach apartment building accused him of slapping his hand during an argument over a noise complaint. Police filed a misdemeanor battery charge, which was not prosecuted. Arriola says that he never hit the guard.
"I didn't touch the man, but I told him off verbally to F off," Arriola says. "He got pissed off that I dressed him down in front of my girlfriend. Then he called cops and said I slapped his hand. Everyone who knows me knows that if we're going there, I'm not going to slap his hand, I'd pop him in the face."
Weithorn's ads also include a charge of alcohol sales to a minor dating from 1991; Arriola says his wallet had been stolen and someone used his ID to buy booze for minors. That charge was also dropped.
But the ads have lead to new legal problems for Weithorn. Last week, Arriola filed a civil suit in Miami-Dade County Court. He asked a judge for an emergency order to halt the ads and accuses Weithorn of violating his privacy by including his Social Security Number in the mailers and TV spots.
"He had the opportunity to redact it, but he chose not to," Arriola says. "It's almost malicious in his efforts to invade my privacy. He didn't have the decency to do the right thing."
Weithorn declined to discuss the suit or why he left the Social Security Number in the ads, instead writing to New Times that "Ricky's criminal record is a public record."
Things got even stranger, though, on Saturday. That's when a process server named Ivan Hadfeg camped outside Weithorn's home on Stillwater Drive in North Beach to give him notice of the lawsuit. According to Hadfeg, he was wearing a badge and holding court papers as he approached Weithorn in his Lexus outside the house. Instead of taking the notice, he claims Weithorn tried to speed away and clipped his leg with his car.
"He clipped me, and I bounced off the car," Hadfeg tells New Times. "It's just the second time in 14 years something like this has happened to me ... This is the last thing I was expecting from someone running for political office."
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Hadfeg called the police, who filed a report of aggravated battery over the claims. Police are still investigating the case. But Weithorn says he's innocent.
"Never hit the process server," he writes to New Times. "Check my car. Spotless."
Either way, a judge agreed with Arriola yesterday, issuing an emergency order prohibiting Weithorn from distributing his Social Security Number in any more ads.
Voters will have to sort through this mess themselves on Tuesday when they cast ballots for a new Group 5 commissioner.