DeSantis suspends Hialeah councilwoman following multimillion-dollar fraud charges

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Hialeah Councilwoman Angelica Pacheco from office on Tuesday, days after she was indicted on healthcare fraud charges.

Seven months and 12 days after she was sworn in as a councilwoman in Hialeah following four runs to win a council seat, Pacheco was removed from office after she was accused of falsely billing private insurers millions of dollars for medically unnecessary services at her addiction treatment center.

Angelica Pacheco, second from left, takes the oath during the Hialeah Council swearing-in ceremony, after defeating incumbent Vivian Casals-Muñoz. On Monday, November 13, 2023 in Hialeah, Florida.
Angelica Pacheco, second from left, takes the oath during the Hialeah Council swearing-in ceremony, after defeating incumbent Vivian Casals-Muñoz. On Monday, November 13, 2023 in Hialeah, Florida.

The suspension is effective immediately, according to the executive order.

“Angelica Pacheco is prohibited from performing any official act, duty, or function of public office,” reads the order. She is also prohibited from receiving any pay or privileges associated with holding public office.

Minutes before the order was issued, Pacheco posted a video on YouTube where she repeated her claim that her FBI investigation has political motivations because she was “exposing” things that put many people in danger.

“They have to do something scandalous to silence me, creating a media scandal to distract the public and the press from what it is really happening in the City of Hialeah,” she said.

Pacheco told el Nuevo Herald that she is innocent in an interview Tuesday.

“I respect his decision, but I have the confidence that I will be able to occupy this position again,” she said. “I know my innocence is going to be proven.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Mayor Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr. reiterated his disappointment in Pacheco’s actions and said he hopes to “put this dark chapter for the city behind us.”

Hialeah’s charter specifies that a permanent vacancy resulting from death, resignation, recall, court order, or other lawful action shall be filled by appointment, by resolution, by an affirmative vote of at least four council members within 30 days of the vacancy.

The suspension was handed down just hours before the last scheduled City Council meeting before the summer break at Hialeah City Hall, prompting politicians to quickly consider appointing someone to fill her vacancy.

Jesus Tundidor, the council president, told the Herald that the situation marks a very sad moment for Hialeah.

“It always hurts when we see the city filled with this kind of news, a reputation from which we have tried very hard to free ourselves,” he said.

Tundidor noted that Tuesday night’s council meeting will include a discussion on this matter to coordinate a special session to address the vacancy left by Pacheco’s removal.

READ MORE: Hialeah councilwoman’s arrest could leave vacancy, but mayor doesn’t want special election

The day after the councilwoman surrendered to the FBI, Bovo held a press conference where he said he expected the City Council to appoint someone to replace her.

“The council has had the ability to appoint a person that usually holds the position until the next election because a special election in the city costs half a million dollars,” the mayor said, ruling out the possibility to conduct an special election in November for her vacancy.

“My advice to the councilors would be ... I don’t think it is even feasible at this time to be able to conduct an election to try to have it in November,” Bovo said.

On Friday, Roberto A. Rodriguez, deputy supervisor of the Miami-Dade County Elections Department, told the Herald “there is still time for Hialeah to conduct an election this year for any vacant seat.”

Rodriguez said because this year is a presidential election year, if Hialeah decides to conduct an election for Pacheco’s seat in November, it would cost about $44,000, not the $415,000 that the city paid in 2023 for an election for four council seats.

With Pacheco’s suspension, Hialeah will have two open seats by the end of the year following Bryan Calvo’s resignation in November. Calvo has to resigning because he is running for tax collector.

A couple of weeks before Pacheco’s indictment, she and her colleague Calvo debated about his soon-to-be-vacant seat in City Council meeting.

Hialeah attorney Rafael Suárez-Rivas explained to the council that the city is governed by state statutes, which stipulate that “the resignation is effective when indicated in the letter, and in this case, it is November 1st.”