Fact checking attack ads: Carlos Gimenez vs. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Those Ads? Truth or Fiction?

Local 10 News is dissecting campaign ads for various candidates and their opponents to get to the bottom of how truthful each of those ads are.

First up is the Carlos Gimenez ad against Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

THE RACE: Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is the Republican running for the House of Representatives against Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the Democrat who currently holds the Miami District 26 seat. It’s one of the closest Florida races to watch. House Republicans see a chance to win back a seat in Florida that was lost in 2018, when Mucarsel-Powell ousted Carlos Curbelo. The district includes Miami’s western and southern suburbs along with the Florida Keys.

THE CLAIM: “Debbie Mucarsel-Powell pushed taxpayer-funded loans meant for small business. But somehow, the Wall Street-traded company where her husband was an executive snagged two loans worth $15 million, showered in cash through the program Debbie backed.”

FACT: Mucarsel-Powell’s husband, Robert Powell, works as corporate counsel for Fiesta Restaurant Group, Inc., Miami, according to The Florida Bar. Fiesta, with its headquarters in Dallas, Texas, is the parent company of Pollo Tropical. a fast casual restaurant in Florida, and Taco Cabana, a fast casual restaurant in Texas.

THE BACK STORY: In April, when it rolled out, the government’s coronavirus relief package would grant loans to businesses through the Small Business Administration. The Paycheck Protection Program, part of the massive $2.2 trillion CARES Act, was designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The PPP program stumbled when it went live in April. Research published by Morgan Stanley released a list of PPP funds that were claimed were claimed by large, publicly traded companies. More than $1.3 billion was received by nearly 450 public companies. Fiesta Restaurant Group, Inc. was one them.

Fiesta received $15 million from the PPP program to pay its employees at Florida’s Pollo Tropical and, in Texas, at Taco Cabana. Fiesta’s second quarter 2020 financial summary had total revenues of $121.9 million.

Mucarsel-Powell was a supporter of the two Paycheck Protection Program bills, but specifically to help small business. She had criticized Republicans, most notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, for language in the emergency-relief bill that allowed big businesses to compete for the small-business loans.

The ad points out her fervent support of the two bills and that the multi-million company, with which her husband has an affiliation, received money from the program.

United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced at the end of April that companies receiving loans over $2 million would be audited and were warned of potential criminal liability. Fiesta, according to an SEC filing, announced April 29 it was repaying and returning $15 million in proceeds from PPP.

TRUTH METER: Mucarsel-Powell nor her husband, Robert, did not personally benefit from Fiesta receiving PPP money.

(Up next: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell ad against Carlos Gimenez)

About the Author:

Michelle F. Solomon is a multi-platform producer/reporter for Local10 and is the podcast producer/reporter/host of the station's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and producer of Local10.com's DigiShorts.