MIAMI — A judge tasked with investigating a campaign finance scandal involving former state representative and Miami Beach commissioner Michael Grieco is recommending a 90-day suspension of Grieco’s law license, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report, issued by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge George Sarduy as part of a Florida Bar case, calls on the Florida Supreme Court to find Grieco guilty of violating the state’s rules for lawyers related to conduct involving dishonesty or a “criminal act that reflects adversely” on the attorney.
The state Supreme Court will now make the ultimate decision on whether and how Grieco should be disciplined. In addition to the recommended suspension, Sarduy’s report calls for Grieco to pay the Florida Bar’s unspecified costs in the proceedings.
Grieco, a prominent South Florida criminal defense attorney who is rumored to be considering a run for Miami Beach mayor later this year, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday evening. His attorney in the Florida Bar case, Ben Kuehne, said in a statement that Grieco “respects the recommendation of the Referee.”
“It will be the Florida Supreme Court’s responsibility to determine the outcome for these long ago allegations,” Kuehne said. “Since that time, Michael Grieco has continued to fight for his clients and represent the best interests of the community.”
Kuehne added that “Miami Beach voters have known of this topic and have elected and re-elected [Grieco] to the Florida Legislature.”
Grieco, 47, resigned as a Miami Beach commissioner in 2017 amid the campaign finance scandal. He was elected as a Democratic state representative in 2018 and ran unopposed two years later. He filed to run for state Senate against incumbent Ileana Garcia in 2021 but dropped out of the race last summer.
A spokesperson for the Florida Bar, Jennifer Krell Davis, declined to comment on the case. The Bar filed its formal complaint against Grieco in July 2017.
The case relates to Grieco’s conduct during a failed bid for Miami Beach mayor in 2017. That year, Grieco pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge that a political committee he was secretly running accepted $25,000 of foreign money funneled through a straw donor.
In 2021, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust found Grieco had falsely portrayed his involvement with the committee, People for Better Leaders, first when he told the Miami Herald he had nothing to do with the committee and again when he told the Herald: “It is absolutely untrue . . . You can look right into my soul.”
Sarduy, the referee in the Florida Bar case, concluded that Grieco had made statements “intended to mislead the press and public regarding his true involvement” with the PAC.
The 64-page referee’s report is dated Sept. 30, 2022, and was posted on the public online case docket Tuesday.
It notes that Grieco initially said through his attorney that he was acting as the PAC’s lawyer but later testified under oath in the referee’s investigation that he was not doing so.
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“Accordingly, it is clear that Respondent’s narrative and testimony on this topic change depending on the audience to whom it is presented, and the goal Respondent wishes to accomplish,” Sarduy wrote.
Grieco, Sarduy added, “made misrepresentations in these proceedings, under oath before me, regarding his involvement” with the committee.
Kuehne said Grieco “presented a full and accurate presentation of the facts to the referee.”
Grieco’s troubles began during the 2017 mayoral run. On the campaign trail, he presented himself as a straight shooter who would fight special interests at City Hall. But a Herald investigation found he was quietly operating a PAC raising money from some of those special interests, including developers, lobbyists and city vendors. Donors to the committee said Grieco himself had asked them to contribute.
When questioned by the Herald, Grieco denied in the strongest possible terms that he was involved.
“I do not have a [political committee],” Grieco said. “I didn’t set up one. I haven’t solicited for one.”
That statement and other similar denials were found to be untrue, first by the Miami-Dade ethics commission and now by the referee.
In issuing his recommendation for discipline, Sarduy noted that Grieco had previously received a public reprimand by the Florida Supreme Court in 2008, related to his conduct as an assistant state attorney. The Bar charged that Grieco had interfered in the assault case of a friend by leading detectives to believe he was involved with the case and later asking that his friend receive special treatment.