‘Return to sender:’ New evidence in questions about residency of newly elected House member in South Florida
New evidence emerged Friday raising more questions about the legal residency of a Republican who won election this week to the state House in South Florida as his Democratic rival filed an official complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission.
A letter dated June 19 the Florida Division of Elections mailed to an apartment complex where Rep. Michael David Redondo said he had leased a unit in House District 118 in June was returned July 5 by the U.S. Postal Service and marked "Return to Sender. Attempted - Not known. Unable to forward."
A political newcomer who runs his own law firm, Redondo, 38, of Miami, won Tuesday with 52% of the vote in the low-turnout special election, beating Democrat Johnny Gonzalo Farias, 54, of Miami, who received 46% of votes. A non-affiliated candidate received just under 3% of votes. Redondo's winning margin was 541 votes.
Earlier reporting showed Redondo bought a two-bedroom luxury, waterfront condominium for $950,000 that is 20 miles away in House District 113, according to property records. He signed a 30-year mortgage May 30 for $727,000 that required him to live in the condo as his principal residence for at least one year, records showed.
Under Florida law and the Legislature’s own rules, lawmakers take office immediately upon election and must live in the district "at the time of election." Lawmakers are allowed to own multiple homes but can only have one principal, or legal, residence.
Farias on Friday urged the Republican-led House, the Florida Bar and the State Attorney's Office to investigate what he described as fraud in the election. "Every voter is entitled to cast their vote on the truth and facts of each individual candidate," Farias said.
A statement Friday from Farias’ campaign noted that Rendondo's actions are overseen by the Florida Bar, which regulates the conduct of attorneys.
"To have someone whose entire profession relies on his ethics, morals, and truthfulness lie to not only the public but his voters shows a lack of character," the campaign statement said.
Redondo has stopped responding since late Tuesday to a reporter's repeated phone messages and texts asking about his residency issues.
Meanwhile, the deputy campaign manager for Farias said she was filing a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics accusing Redondo of misleading voters. She listed Redondo’s address on the complaint to the ethics commission as his condo in House District 113.
"It is clear that he does not reside in District 118 and has signed a merely ceremonial lease in order to qualify to serve if elected," according to the complaint from Vanessa Brito, 40, of Miami. She said Redondo was legally bound to live in the waterfront condo outside his district, which would disqualify him as a lawmaker. Farias paid her $6,742 for her work on the election, according to campaign finance records.
The latest disclosure involves the letter from state election officials to Redondo that was returned to sender.
The Division of Elections mailed the June 19 letter, which acknowledged Redondo had appointed a new campaign treasurer, to the address Redondo had specified in correspondence with election officials June 15. The address Redondo gave at the time was the leasing office of the apartment complex behind a shopping center where Redondo said he had rented a unit, not the address of the building where his apartment was. Those buildings are less than 100 feet apart, and the address numbers are a single digit different.
When he gave the address of the leasing office to state officials, Redondo included his apartment number, but there are other buildings in the same complex with units that share the same apartment number. That may explain why the postal carrier couldn't deliver the letter.
Candidates were competing for the House seat vacated when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed the incumbent, a Republican, to become the county court clerk. Then-Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, 40, of Miami, resigned June 16. Redondo signed a document announcing his candidacy on June 15.
Redondo updated his voter's registration with the correct apartment address on June 22 and used that address in subsequent correspondence in August with the elections division.
Still, address confusion persisted: Redondo’s tax preparer submitted to the IRS his 2022 return on Aug. 7 – nearly two months after Redondo said he moved into the apartment in District 118 – and listed Redondo's home address as the same building in District 113 where Redondo had purchased the luxury condo in May, records showed.
Redondo said he had been renting a different condo in the same building on the 34th floor since September 2020. He said he moved in June to the apartment on Southwest 122nd Avenue near the Kendallgate Shopping Center, which includes a pet store, a cosmetics store, a sneaker outlet and a crafts store.
House District 118 is a narrow strip of suburban neighborhoods west of Miami that extends north from Homestead to Southwest 8th Street.
The Florida Commission on Ethics is made up of nine members, five appointed by the governor, two by the Senate president and two by the House speaker. The commission currently consists of five Republicans, three Democrats and one non-party affiliated commissioner.
The commission’s chair, Republican Ashley Lukis, who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is the wife of DeSantis’ former chief of staff, Adrian Lukis.
The commission only has the power to recommend penalties for potential ethical violations and cannot enforce any of its recommendations. If it were to find that Redondo violated Florida ethics law, it can recommend penalties to the House.
Including Redondo, Republicans hold 84 seats in the House. Democrats hold 35 seats.
The residency clause in the condo mortgage Redondo signed required that he live in the 21st-floor, corner unit – with two balconies with views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami, a private elevator, floor-to-ceiling windows and stainless steel kitchen – starting no later than July 2023, or within 60 days after he signed the mortgage. His leased apartment across town has a view of a parking lot and the back of the shopping mall.
The provisions in the mortgage from Miami-based City National Bank of Florida mean that Redondo was either violating the banking contract he signed by living in the leased apartment since June – or if he was living in the luxury condo, he would not have been a resident of the district where he was elected Tuesday night.
A spokesman for the bank, Aaron Gordon, said the bank does not discuss its clients as a matter of policy and privacy.
Asked this week whether he was violating the mortgage clause by living in an apartment across town, Redondo said, "Not that I'm aware of." The mortgage is a publicly accessible document filed with the county clerk of court – a government office that in this case is overseen by the former incumbent Republican lawmaker in District 118 who Redondo is replacing.
The mortgage provision permits Redondo to live elsewhere but only with written approval in advance from the bank. Redondo said he did not know whether he obtained that permission, in writing or otherwise. Such residency clauses are usually imposed by lenders offering a lower interest rate on a mortgage for a person's primary residence than would be available for an investment property.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com. You can donate to support our students here.