Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | June 15, 2021
A Palm Beach County School Board member won’t face any ethics fines or sanctions regarding questions related to a Delray Beach house she bought outside her district.
The State Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint filed against Alexandria Ayala, who took office in November. It’s unclear whether any action will be taken by two other agencies, the Florida Department of State and the FBI, which both received complaints alleging fraud.
Ayala maintains that she helped her boyfriend buy a house in Delray Beach but that she lives in District 2 in central Palm Beach County and has turned the house over to him. She characterized the complaints as politically motivated, coming from the consultant of her opponent in the 2020 election.
“This attempted distraction … did not deter me from my commitment to the important work of the School Board or representing the constituents of District 2,” she said in a text.
Political consultant Richard Giorgio questioned Ayala’s eligibility to serve on the School Board in November after discovering she bought a 3,100-square-foot home with her partner, Rob Long, who is chairman of the Palm Beach Soil and Water Conservation District. She had listed her residency as her mother’s house in Palm Springs for voting and election purposes.
Ayala and Long signed a federally backed mortgage, agreeing that the house would be their primary residence. But under state law, Ayala can’t live there and also represent her district, which includes parts of Lake Worth Beach, West Palm Beach and communities to the west.
The Ethics Commission didn’t specifically consider this issue. Residency matters fall under the Department of State, Giorgio said.
Instead, the commission considered an allegation that Ayala understated her assets on a financial disclosure form when she qualified June 8, 2020, to run for School Board.
Ayala filled out the form in early June listing the total amount in her checking and savings account as $3,424. But in early July, she and Long put down a $51,000 down payment on the Delray Beach home.
Ayala said the down payment came from Long’s savings.
“Where the home was purchased with a partner, it is speculation to attribute the down payment” to Ayala, the Ethics Commission wrote in its ruling. Giorgio’s “doubt or skepticism about the accuracy or veracity of a filing, a value figure, or a description, is not enough to invoke the Commission’s investigative jurisdiction.”
Giorgio said the dismissal does not surprise him.
“That was the weakest of the three I filed,” he said. “It was kind of an afterthought.”
He said he hasn’t received any updates on his two other complaints.
One filed with the FBI alleges mortgage fraud. A spokesman wouldn’t comment on whether the agency is investigating.
A complaint filed with the Department of State alleges that Ayala committed election fraud by listing a different address for running for office, a charge Ayala denies. A spokesman for the Department of State said the agency is still reviewing the complaint.