Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

Miami-Dade County Investigating Fraud Claims Against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Update: Miami-Dade County has ruled that Diaz-Balart did not commit homestead-exemption fraud at his Kendall home:

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Fraud investigators from Miami-Dade's property appraiser are looking into claims that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart committed homestead-exemption fraud, an office spokesperson confirms to New Times. Eileen Hernandez, an agency spokesperson, says the appraiser's Homestead-Exemption Fraud Office has received "numerous complaints" after local blogger and mortgage broker Grant Stern published documents he said show that the congressman claimed on different mortgage documents that his "primary residence" was simultaneously in Washington, D.C., and Miami. Diaz-Balart denied the allegations yesterday.

Hernandez confirms there is now an "active investigation" into Diaz-Balart's mortgage documents. But Hernandez also cautions that in most cases, the agency investigates virtually every complaint it receives as a matter of policy.

The alleged charges are still serious. Stern published his allegations on DCReport.com, a website run by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former tax law and economics reporter for the New York Times and the former board president of the nonprofit group Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Stern reported this week that Diaz-Balart told a bank that he had moved to D.C. permanently when, in fact, he had not. The congressman — a Trump ally who has taken thousands from Big Sugar companies and the National Rifle Association — claimed on a 2012 mortgage application for a D.C. condo that Washington was his "primary residence." Then, in 2013, Stern reported, Diaz-Balart said on different refinancing documents that his Miami home was his "primary" house. One's "primary residence" matters on mortgage applications — certain kinds of loans are available only on "primary" houses because lenders generally believe buyers are likelier to pay off loans for "primary" homes compared to vacation or other secondary properties.

Florida residents can receive homestead tax exemptions on their primary residences in Florida — but only on one home. Stern reported that Diaz-Balart has claimed a "homestead exemption" on his Kendall house since 2006.

Moreover, members of Congress are required to live in the states they represent. Diaz-Balart's gerrymandered district stretches across both coasts of Florida, from Miami-Dade west to Collier County near Naples. Washington, D.C., is quite obviously not in Florida, let alone his district.

Diaz-Balart strongly denied that Stern's story is accurate. His office issued this statement to Politico Florida yesterday:

Congressman Diaz-Balart and his wife have always been completely and entirely forthcoming, transparent and truthful with any and all information during every mortgage application process they have ever been involved with. Any speculation otherwise is demonstrably false, reckless and irresponsible. This baseless attack is a clear and desperate coordinated effort to try and smear Congressman Diaz-Balart ahead of the November election. At all relevant times, Congressman Diaz-Balart and his wife have had one home designated as their homestead, which is the home where they live in Miami. This information is public record, available to all lenders at all relevant times through credit bureaus, financial statements, financial disclosures, and property tax records.”

Diaz-Balart further released a statement from the Congressional Federal Credit Union, his mortgage originator. Politico reporter Marc Caputo tweeted today that, although Diaz-Balart had authorized the credit union to speak to Caputo, it was refusing to do so anyway:

But Stern is sticking to his story. Now it will be up to the county to decide whether Diaz-Balart did anything wrong within its boundaries. In the meantime, he is up for reelection next month against Democrat Mary Barzee Flores.

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