A few weeks before the electoral race that will define the Miami-Dade County Commission in Florida, serious doubts rest on the candidacy of Nicaraguan-born businesswoman Sophia Lacayo, who aspires to represent the 12th district. Lacayo is facing charges of perjury, questionable business dealings with a bank in Venezuela, and possible fraud to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Lacayo is running against Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez and has reportedly invested some $780,000 in her campaign. But this is not the first time the businesswoman has run for a seat on the commission.
Following the money: Miami-Dade Commission candidate @SophiaLacayo owns most of the companies that gave her campaign max donations this cycle. All received federal PPP loans.
— Jesse Scheckner (@JesseScheckner) July 29, 2022
In 2019, Lacayo was elected Commissioner of the City of Sweetwater, also known as Little Havana for being home to a large Cuban community. However, she was removed from office and pleaded guilty to perjury after it was discovered that she was not a Sweetwater resident (a key requirement to hold the position). In 2020, she was sentenced to one year of probation and barred from running for office during that period.
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Currently, the City of Sweetwater is suing Lacayo to repay nearly $70,000 she received while illegitimately holding office. The candidate has not responded.
In the midst of this new campaign, Lacayo tried to seal her case against the city in what appeared to be an attempt to present a better image to voters, but local prosecutors objected to her request on the grounds that voters have a right to know about the law violations she committed while in office.
Although the amount of money she has invested in her campaign seems overwhelming, it is not the number that is striking, but the source of the funds. According to a report by Florida Politics, all the companies that have donated to the campaign are owned by Lacayo.
While one could argue that it is natural for a businesswoman to use her companies to benefit her electoral aspirations, all of Lacayo’s companies received millions from the Payment Protection Program (PPP) that the SBA enabled during the pandemic to protect small businesses.
The Florida Politics report points out that, in the electoral qualification documents, the Nicaraguan candidate indicates a fortune of almost $25 million and only $1,500 in debts, leaving out a total of $4,634,000 in private mortgages for the purchase of three properties.
The holder of the latter loans is a Venezuelan businessman named Anuar Halabi Harb, director of the National Credit Bank of Venezuela, who allegedly issued the mortgages under the concept of “investment properties.”
In turn, Halabi Harb has been mentioned on other occasions as a link between the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and the terrorist organization Hezbollah, the armed wing of the government of Iran.
Lacayo’s candidacy, for such reasons, raises serious questions about his political intentions in Miami-Dade County, his dubious business practices, and his links with external enemies of the United States.
In that sense, Florida Politics editor and author of the report Peter Schorsch considers that Lacayo’s candidacy leaves up in the air several questions that in his criteria should be answered by his campaign.
“Why are companies who needed PPP loans helping fund political races? Why are there so many inconsistencies on her qualifying documents, such as the additional $4.6 million in liabilities she failed to mention? Who is Anuar Halabi Harb and why is he loaning out millions for ‘investment properties’ that are being claimed as homes for political candidates?” asks Schorsch.
Local elections will take place on Tuesday, August 23.