School Board member accused of fraud; she says the claim is just politics

South Florida Sun Sentinel | by Scott Travis | December 2, 2020

A newly elected Palm Beach County School Board member could face three separate investigations into whether she misled voters or her mortgage company about where she actually lives.

Alexandria Ayala, 27, is the subject of complaints with the Department of State alleging election fraud and the FBI alleging mortgage fraud. The issues relate to her purchase of a $515,000 home with her partner in Delray Beach, outside her central county School Board district.

A third complaint, filed with the state Ethics Commission, alleges Ayala understated her assets when she qualified June 8 to run for School Board.

All three complaints were filed by political consultant Richard Giorgio, who represented Ayala’s opponent, Virginia Savietto, in the Aug. 18 election.

Giorgio called for her to resign a few days before she was sworn in Nov. 19. Since she didn’t, he said, the investigations could give Gov. Ron DeSantis cause to suspend and replace her.

“I feel like I gave her an opportunity to correct the problem and instead she chose not to take any action,” he said. “It really doesn’t leave me any other choice.”

In an email statement, Ayala said she lives in her district and the allegations have no merit.

“These complaints are nothing more than my opponent’s political consultant upset over another failed election effort,” she said.

Kerrie Stillman, a spokeswoman for the Ethics Commission, said she couldn’t comment about specific complaints until they’re resolved. She said anyone accused of a violation is sent a copy of the complaint and asked to respond.

If Ethics Commission staff determine the matter falls under the agency’s jurisdiction, they will investigate, Stillman said. If the commission finds wrongdoing, it can recommend sanctions to DeSantis, ranging from a reprimand to a fine of up to $10,000, suspension or even removal from office.

An FBI spokesman said he can’t confirm or deny any investigations. A spokesman from the Department of State couldn’t be reached for comment.

Giorgio first questioned Ayala’s eligibility to serve last month after discovering she bought the 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.

Ayala and Long signed a federally backed mortgage, agreeing that the house would be their primary residence for a year.

But under state law, Ayala can’t live there and also represent School Board District 2, which includes parts of Lake Worth Beach, West Palm Beach and communities to the west.

Ayala also used her mother’s address in Palm Springs to vote on Aug. 18 and Nov. 3, even though the mortgage required her to live in the Delray Beach house by late August, well before the November election, Giorgio wrote.

“Ms. Ayala cannot have two principle residences — one for mortgage purposes (outside her school district) and one for voting purposes (inside her school district),” Giorgio wrote in a voter fraud complaint to the Department of State.

Ayala said she lives in the Palm Springs house. She said Long needed a cosigner for the mortgage so she bought it with him, but he lives there alone. She said she has been working with the mortgage company to remove her name from the property.

“I am not an owner of the property. I do not live there. I have been a resident of Palm Springs and will continue to reside there,” she said. “The property appraiser is expected to update its records and make such publicly available records shortly.”

Giorgio alleges in the complaint to the FBI that if she actually lives with her mother, she is committing mortgage fraud.

In the Ethics Commission complaint, Giorgio accuses Ayala of failing to disclose all her assets on a candidate financial disclosure form.

Ayala filled out the form in June listing the total amount in her checking and savings account as $3,424. But in 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.

“This shows my opponent’s consultant is more interested in trying to create negative press in reckless disregard of the truth,” she said.

Photo: Alexandria Ayala poses for photos with her partner Rob Long, left, and her family before she is sworn in as the newest member of the School Board of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach Florida on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

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