Alex Diaz de la Portilla corruption charges involve Miami’s controversial Centner Academy

MIAMI – The host of felony corruption charges lodged against Miami City Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney William Riley Jr. center around a controversial private school and its plan to build a sports complex on public land.

That school is Centner Academy, with campuses in Miami’s Design District and Edgewater neighborhood. It is run by David and Leila Centner.

Authorities alleged that Riley “controlled a bank account in the name of a Delaware-based corporation to launder approximately $245,000 in concealed political contributions made by a management services company” in exchange for permission to build the $10 million athletic complex at Miami’s Biscayne Park.

Riley, 48, worked as a “lobbyist and in-house attorney,” for the Centners, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by Local 10 News.

Diaz de la Portilla, 58, sponsored a 2020 resolution directing Miami’s city manager to begin negotiations with the Centners to construct the sports complex at the park, located at 150 NE 19th St., next to Centner’s Edgewater campus.

The commission passed a 2022 resolution sponsored by the commissioner accepting a $10 million donation from Centner to build the facility.

The affidavit states that Riley “sought to channel tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions from the Centners to political committees” controlled by Diaz de la Portilla,

The money, sent in 2020 and 2022, coincided with campaigns by Renier Diaz de la Portilla, the commissioner’s brother, for county commission and judicial posts, respectively, the affidavit states.

William Riley (MDCR)

The affidavit also lodges allegations that Diaz de la Portilla billed the Centners for pricey stays at the swanky EAST Miami hotel in Brickell.

Authorities charged the pair with, among other things, money laundering, unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, bribery and criminal conspiracy. They could face decades behind bars if convicted and sentenced to the maximum prison terms.

Both men have denied allegations of wrongdoing, with Diaz de la Portilla calling the charges politically-motivated and Riley’s attorney telling the Associated Press that his client is innocent.

Riley’s attorney later sent Local 10 News the following statement:

“These charges reflect an unfortunate attempt to criminalize entirely legal lobbying and fundraising activities. The lobbying activities, as well as sources of monetary contributions to campaigns, have all been matters of public record. The arrest affidavit is fraught with error and we are looking forward to the opportunity to correct the record through the judicial process."

Kendall Coffey, Riley's attorney

Centner Academy made headlines in 2021 for threatening to fire any staff members who took the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Centners have not been charged in connection to the case.

“At this time, The Centners have no comment. Any questions regarding this matter, we kindly refer you to the State Attorney’s Office,” David Centner said in a statement to Local 10 News.

Centner later sent in an updated statement that reads:

“You may have heard that recently a City of Miami Commissioner and a lobbyist were charged with some serious financial and ethical violations. Leila and myself, Centner Academy, and some of our projects are referenced in statements being made, and these particular individuals in question.

Please know that at this time the Prosecutor has asked us not to comment. With that being said, we wish to assure everybody that we are not being accused of any wrongful acts nor have we done anything wrong.

We wish we could share more freely, we imagine matters will clarify in the coming weeks."

David Centner

The Broward State Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case in lieu of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who said she had a conflict of interest in the case due to her personal and professional relationship with Riley.

Read the arrest affidavit:

Editor’s note: The original article misstated the year of the original park resolution. It has since been updated.

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.