Monday, September 22, 2008

Diaz-Balart Family Hates Ethics

Progreso Weekly:

I am pretty sure it was 1990 or 1991. Our second meeting was the only time I have broken bread with Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart. The place was the old Centrust Tower in downtown Miami. There was a little restaurant on one of the floors, halfway up the building. That's where we met.

The Centrust no longer exists. The building now carries a Bank of America sign. Lincoln and Mario no longer serve in the Florida legislature. They are now both members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Let me back up a bit. At the time I was a real estate broker. I was working with two Colombian investors here in Miami. They were father and son. Their last name was Pinsky. They were looking at properties to buy in Miami. They also represented a Colombian group who wanted to build a hotel in Costa Rica.

It's funny, but you never know where life, or in this case the possibility of a business, will lead you. I had mentioned the Pinskys to my father, who was then trying to enjoy his first retirement from Consolidated Bank. He put me in touch with wealthy investors from Miami who said they had connections to some people with strong ties to Costa Rica. They set up a first meeting with whom they termed as friends. We would be having coffee. Invited to the meeting were the Pinskys and my father, who were there with me, and the persons with the connection to Costa Rica, whose identity remained a mystery until the meeting. We had been told they had "incredible" sources. One of them, I was informed, was a Florida state senator.

Sitting down at our table when we arrived were Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart. Not good, I thought. We proceeded. Lincoln was then a Florida state senator and Mario a young and recently elected state House member. I must be fair and tell you that although my insides kept sending warning signals, the informal and quick meeting went well -- it was actually pleasant. The conversation centered on the Pinkys’ plans.

A lunch meeting was then arranged for a couple of days later. It was like night and day. The two brothers were there again. But this time, I saw the real Lincoln show up -- aggressive, as if almost mad. And Mario, as would become so usual, simply stared and nodded his head as his older brother spoke.

Anything was possible in Costa Rica, we were told by Lincoln. Their father, Rafael Diaz-Balart, would be able to handle any and all requests. He had, we were told, a very close friendship with the Costa Rican president. We were led to believe they were almost business partners.

Lincoln then threw down the gauntlet. He may have even hit the table as he addressed the Pinskys. Toward the end of the lunch, with neck-veins popping, red-faced and squeezed-together eyes, he demanded, "For this thing to happen you have to show good faith. You must deposit $100,000 in an escrow account under our control," he told my clients.

No deal ever went through. It was the last time any of us sat at a table with the Diaz-Balart brothers. Later on I was to find out that Rafael Diaz-Balart was under investigation in Spain for money lost by European investors in some kind of scheme.