Thursday, December 31, 2015

Marco Rubio's scandal-plagued career just got a little more interesting

This sounds a little like the beginning of an Elmore Leonard novel—or maybe it's just how things in Florida really work. It's got everything: Cocaine trafficking, real estate, and a powerful politician. It's who the politician is that makes it news outside of Florida, because that would be Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

When Marco Rubio was majority whip of the Florida House of Representatives, he used his official position to urge state regulators to grant a real estate license to his brother-in-law, a convicted cocaine trafficker who had been released from prison 20 months earlier, according to records obtained by The Washington Post.

In July 2002, Rubio sent a letter on his official statehouse stationery to the Florida Division of Real Estate, recommending Orlando Cicilia "for licensure without reservation." The letter, obtained by The Washington Post under the Florida Public Records Act, offers a glimpse of Rubio using his growing political power to assist his troubled brother-in-law and provides new insight into how the young lawmaker intertwined his personal and political lives.

Rubio did not disclose in the letter that Cicilia was married to his sister, Barbara, or that the former cocaine dealer was living at the time in the same West Miami home as Rubio's parents. He wrote that he had known Cicilia "for over 25 years," without elaborating.

To put this in fuller context, we're not talking about your neighborhood pot dealer here, caught up in an overzealous war on drugs. Cicilia was convicted in 1989 of distributing $15 million worth of cocaine. While the feds seized Cicilia's house, that $15 million was never found. Cicilia still lives in the family home with Rubio's mother, and his two sons have received more than $130,000 from Rubio-affiliated PACs and campaigns over the past decade. All of which is fine, helping out family members—but it all feels just a little bit hinky.

One of Rubio's presidential advisors, Todd Harris, responded to the Post in an email, saying that at the time Rubio "believed Orlando should be judged on his own merits and felt it would be highly inappropriate, and could be perceived as exerting undue pressure, if his letter stated that Orlando was a relative." Of course, there's the other side of that as Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, explained. Essentially, "it’s wrong to use your public office for personal or private gain," and when a public official has a conflict of interest in writing a letter like this, it should be disclosed.

On top of that, there's Rubio's history of hanging with some pretty slimy BFFs, including former state Rep. David Rivera. He is under investigation for campaign finance shenanigans, and he and Rubio had a real estate deal together that went horribly and sort of scandalously wrong. Rubio's other great friend, former state Rep. Ralph Arza, "was forced to resign from the Florida legislature in 2006 following two felony charges related to leaving a racial slur on a fellow representative’s voice mail."

All of this amounts to more than a little tarnish on the GOP establishment's golden boy.

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