Oct 282016
 

george-neugent-2-cropped

by Rick Boettger…….

I flew again to Tallahassee to attend the sentencing hearing for George Neugent’s three violations of our state’s ethics laws. I went to object to their absurdly light penalties—in particular, only a single $500 fine for not reporting his golf membership for years, missing dozens of quarterly reports of the $1,500 quarterly gift, 15 times the reporting requirement of over $100.

The Ethics Commission had given George a separate violation and $500 fine for each of the two years he had filed unethical Financial Reports, and their laws call a yearly membership a single gift for a year, so it was baffling that accepting and not reporting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts would get such a small sanction.

I was not allowed to talk to the Ethics Commissioners, but they were indeed forced to read my formal objections to the inadequacy of their penalty. Boy, did I take advantage of my single opportunity to break through the Kevlar that protects them from the people who pay their bills and whom they are supposed to be serving.

The document I sent them is available here. In brief, I first made the legal case for multiple counts on the gift non-reporting. Next, at great length I described the twelve ways we Complainants are unfairly treated by the procedures of the commission.  These include not being allowed to speak (offenders can), and not getting material before the meetings (offenders do).  Worse, the Commission makes up their own stupid complaints and then dismisses them, making the Complainants look bad and the offenders good, and then refuses to speak up for the Complainants when we have been maligned.

Most of all I took them to task for their ridiculous record of convictions for misuse of office, the zero for 116 I have written about elsewhere.  When the President of Turkmenistan was re-elected with 97.14% of the vote, it was called “sham democracy” by monitors. When Trump Village was 99.81% white in 1967, it was due to “we don’t take [n-word].” When top law firms in the 1950’s allowed only a single female attorney—their “quota”—it was due to gender discrimination. The Florida Ethics Commission is in this class.

I concluded my charges with this, from the linked document:

“All in all, my research and personal experience find your Commission to be a mere sham, betraying the public trust of the taxpaying citizens you have been created to protect. Instead, you uphold official misconduct and demean the good citizens who report it. A hideous version of this occurs regularly in India. A woman who is gang raped and reports it to the police is gang raped by the police themselves. It makes me feel better that my experience with you is trivial by compare, but nonetheless isomorphic.”

My greatest joy in this trip was watching them read my charges. Eight high and mighty Ethics Commissioners sucking lemons for the seven minutes it took them to read my fiery broadside. Really, I wish I had a photo to show you, scrunched brows and pursed lips. NOT ONE would look me in the eye, like George at the July meeting.

After reading it, they only discussed the adequacy of the penalty. Where did the number come from? Well, it’s always been $500. Why one count? Here George’s attorney baldly admitted, “I proposed it and the Advocate accepted. There was no negotiation.” The Chair of the Commissioners had introduced him as “the legendary Mark Herron” and referred to him again later the same way. Basically, the Ethics Commissioners kiss up to the defendants’ attorneys and let them run the show.

One Commissioner stated that the official censure was a severe punishment for George, and we don’t want to discourage people from running for public office. This is nonsense. George and his people are laughing at all of us, his getting away with his crimes, metaphorically having to write ten times, “I will not burn down the school again” and being done with it. You can bet no other Keys media (except maybe The Citizen, I hope) will even bother to report his punishment, which has been public record for three weeks now without a word written or broadcast about it.

Not a word was spoken about my other charges, nor have any of the Ethics Commissioners taken me up on my offer to provide supporting documentation for or to discuss them.

I had other joys, though, in Tallahassee, and many more since coming home. Best was hiring my first research assistant since my teaching days at Berkeley, an FSU finance and marketing major. I gave her a couple of hours of on-the-job training for the kind of record-gathering I need done at the Commission’s offices, so I don’t have to spend $1,000 each time to travel up there myself.

Also pleasant was my interaction with the Commission’s staff. We managed to be professionally friendly with each other despite our severely adversarial relationship. It was wonderful they did not give my charges to the Commissioners ahead of time, which would have left me wondering if they’d even bothered to read them. Instead, I got to see them sucking lemons in shame for seven minutes. It was like when the investigator kept the two tax returns George foolishly included with his amended Financial Disclosure forms in the file, making them public records. (Any guesses as to how much he donates to charity? Watch this space for the not-surprising answer.)

The fine irony is that George and his similarly-vile-acting Monroe Commissioners have opened up what I’m sure is the last great project of my life. (“Vile” is not hyperbole, when you read what they all said in their closed sessions with the County Attorney.)  Thanks, guys! I was losing my zest for life, quite happy to check out in a couple of years at my parents’ age by some kind of fluke, despite our all being in excellent health.

Now, I look forward to a five year fight to reform a major Florida state agency, the mass enabler of the George Neugents of our political worlds (who is now mostly in my rear-view mirror). I’m budgeting $100,000, mainly for litigation.  I have two long-term strategies and many short-term tactics, which surely require every bit of energy and skill I can muster. With the passage this year of a reform of our public corruption laws, I believe I am on the right side of history, so I have no one to blame but myself if I fail.

Look forward to coming reports. I’m stoked!

 

 

 

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Rick Boettger

Rick Boettger had a Top Secret security clearance in the Army and studied nuclear chemistry at MIT and law at Yale before getting a PhD in business at Berkeley. He earned tenure as a business professor at TCU in Fort Worth before going to Moscow as a Fulbright Professor, writing a book on the economy, hosting a semi-national talk radio show, and retiring to Key West in 1996 at the age of 48. Since then he has worked part-time as a tax and financial advisor, and has been doing investigative journalism since he began at the Blue Paper in 2007​. He is very happily married to his superb copy-editor Cynthia Edwards, the former long-time PIO for the Key West Police Department.


 October 28, 2016  Posted by at 1:10 am * Featured Story *, Issue #190, Rick Boettger  Add comments

  8 Responses to “Ethics Commission on Neugent: It’s Final—A Light Slap on the Wrists”

  1. Way to go, Rick!

    I strongly encourage readers to take the extra time to read your submission to the Ethics Commission that is linked in the 4th paragraph of this article.

    I think Nugent’s stunts go beyond ethics violations, and I think the same applies to the Ethics Commission.

    “Sham” is perhaps too polite for a fraud on the public. The fraud is that there is supposedly a law enforcement entity to which ethics crimes can be reported, and which would serve as a deterrent to official malfeasance.

    The State Attorney General’s office serves primarily to protect the State from citizens and others, while lauding their secondary function of acting against corporate scammers. It’s all stated on her website. So no enforcement against government can be expected there.

    In other words, there is effectively no true rule of law. It’s all a charade. No wonder government has prepared for years for riots. I think it is only the distractions of sports, media-induced fears of diseases and terrorists, and things like the political circus act, or media-hyped incidents (think OJ trial, Monica and Slick Willy, gas station snipers, and anything else that will keep the public attention transfixed and entertained) that has kept people in their homes in front of the TV instead of out in mobs torching government offices and carrying corrupt politicians to the outskirts of town to make sport of them. If “space aliens” zap every TV station, all hell will break loose within days.

  2. Rick, rather than spending $100,000 on trying to reform the “Ethics” Commission, you should just take the money and blow it together with Cynthia on a wild weekend at the craps table in Vegas. You’ll both have more fun, a lot less frustration and the end result will be the same.

    • Colby, for sure I can contact the 1,000 people screwed the way I was on misconduct. That is in my control. And the fact is, Gannett newspapers did succeed in getting the criminal statute wording changed to give it teeth.

      As far as my tender feelings go, as a former pro cardplayer, I’d feel like an idiot losing 100k in Vegas. Losing this war to change the Ethics commission is hardly a stupid loss, more just vainglorius.

  3. Keep up the good work!!

  4. Strong work, Rick! I have no doubt that you will become the hero to all those that tried in vain to seek justice through the Ethics Committee just as you were my hero in telling the truth about Monroe County vs. SUFA. Let ‘er rip!!

  5. Amazing work. I admire your dedication. I know you’re disappointed with the light punishment, but honestly the fact that there is any punishment at all is incredible. I have no doubt that your persistence, detailed reporting and presence at each of the hearings in Tallahassee were the factors that made this outcome possible.

    I agree that there is a real need to take the burden off the complainants. To be fair, the Ethics Commission is not allowed to initiate investigations on their own. They have been trying to change this for years. Somebody has to file a complaint. Of course, it would help if they made the process less onerous.

    Your letter to the commission might have opened their eyes not only to what complainants go through but also to how bad their chummy relationship with Neugent’s attorney looks to a member of the public they are supposed to protect. By the way, I’ve looked at several recommended and final orders over the last few years. Herron’s name is nearly always at the top representing the respondent.

    Thanks to Sen. Don Gaetz, there was a recent change to the criminal statute that makes it easier to convict public officers of official misconduct. The standard was changed from “corruptly” to “knowingly and intentionally”. It was recognized that it was nearly impossible to get a conviction under the old standard. It was actually more difficult to convict someone of official misconduct than it was to convict them of other crimes.

    That same change has not been made to the “misuse of position” paragraph in the ethics statute. That could be a contributing factor as to why so few public officials are found in violation. Perhaps it would also be helpful if the ethics statute included language that prohibits officials from using their position to “harm another” like the criminal statute does.

    Reading the response to the audit makes it clear that the Clerk’s office went after SUFA with a vengeance. The few “violations” they found probably could have been resolved with a phone call. They clearly weren’t interested in that though.

    Anyhow, thanks for continuing to pursue this. I bet the BOCC is a little rattled that one of their own actually got into even a little bit of trouble. They’re an arrogant bunch – probably stunned to realize that the law applies to them, too.

    • Thanks for the unfortunately bad news. I thought the change in “corrupt” applied to the ethics statute as well. Quite inconsistent that it does not. That explains why I can’t get Gaetz or Ritch the rep to comment on their success in improving the Ethics statute–they didn’t!

      Well, it was Gannett press in Florida that led the way in changing the criminal statute. It took them five years after a 2010 Grand Jury called for it. Fits my own five-year commitment.

      Again, thanks for the encouragement, guys.

  6. Neugent has always been dishonest. I once reported a ROGO violation to him. He said, Great!, this is the stuff we care about.But when he found out the bubba committing the scam, he quickly refused my calls and even rejected my ‘certified’ mail.