MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For months, Republican congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo refused to release a list of clients he has represented over the years through his public relations and lobbying firm, Capitol Gains.
He suggested the list wouldn’t be very interesting anyway saying there are no secrets or real surprises with who he represents.
“All the work I’ve done throughout the years I’ve done in front of the camera,” he said Friday during a taping of Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede.
“Are you saying all the work?” DeFede asked.
“Yeah,” Curbelo replied.
But there is at least one client who he never disclosed and for whom he never appeared in front of a camera – Roberto Isaias, a wealthy fugitive from Ecuador currently living in Miami.
“I know Mr. Isaias, sure,” Curbelo told DeFede, but only after being directly asked if he represented him.
Curbelo said he helped arrange meeting in Washington for Isaias with members of Congress.
“We’ve worked on a public relations project with the Isaias family to tell the truth about the government of Ecuador and what it is doing to violate human rights, to imprison people that it considers enemies, to work against American interests about the ties of the Ecuadorean government to Iran,” he said. “Yes I have worked on that and I am proud of that.”
Earlier this year, The New York Times wrote a lengthy story about Roberto Isaias and his brother, William, and how they have used their financial resources to ingratiate themselves with politicians in Washington. The Isaias family was a major donor to President Obama’s re-election campaign, and has donated to Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Marco Rubio. The family has also contributed to Curbelo’s opponent, Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia.
The campaign contributions were made at a time when the government in Ecuador was pressing the United States to extradite the Isaias brothers.
The New York Times quoted the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, as saying: “The Isaias brothers fled to Miami not to live off their work, something just, but to buy themselves more mansions and Rolls-Royces and to finance American political campaigns. That’s what has given them protection.”
The Isaias brothers, believed to be worth at least $1 billion, were tried and convicted in absentia in Ecuador and sentenced to eight years in prison for reportedly cheating banks in the South American country out of nearly $400 million. The Isaias brothers deny any wrongdoing and claim their prosecution was purely political.
Asked how much money Roberto Isaias and his family paid to him and Capitol Gains, Curbelo refused to answer. “Look, the Isaias family is a victim of the Ecuadorean government, Joe Garcia understands that, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen understands this, the President probably understands this,” he said. “I am proud to have worked with people who are fighting against a government that by the way is friends with the Castro government, works with the Venezuelan government to undermine American interests.”
Curbelo attempted on several occasions to deflect questions about the money he was paid by saying that his opponent, Garcia, has taken campaign contributions from the Isaias family.
Those contributions, however, are a matter of public record, available for review on campaign finance forms candidates are required to file.
What is not known is how much Roberto Isaias paid directly to Curbelo and Capitol Gains. Because he transferred ownership of the company into his wife’s name several years ago, he technically is not required to release his client list or the payments he received. Curbelo admits even though his wife is listed as the owner of the company, she does no work for the firm and he still handles all of its clients.
“I comply with all the laws, if you or anyone else isn’t happy with the laws that we have set up with public disclosure you have a right to complain about that,” he said.
Curbelo never registered as a lobbyist in Washington on behalf of Isaias. He said he was not required to since he did not consider what he was doing lobbying.
“I have never lobbied in Washington for anyone,” he said.
Asked which members of Congress he met with on their behalf, he replied: “I don’t have a list but we did set up meetings for him and he did give them a lot of important information with regards to what the Ecuadorean government is doing with the government of Iran.”
After the on-camera interview, Curbelo told DeFede he had represented Isaias for “about a year” but stopped representing him “a couple of months ago.”
Late Friday, Curbelo amended his story telling CBS4 news partner, The Miami Herald, that he had actually worked for Isaias for three years.