by Rick Boettger…….
All four admitted violating their sworn financial reporting requirements for the years 2012-2015. David Rice was fined $1,500 for each year; Heather Carruthers and Danny Kolhage, $1,250; and Sylvia Murphy, $1,000 for a total of $19,000 in fines, levied by the Florida Commission on Ethics. In addition, all hired lawyers to meet with the Commission’s investigator and, as I will discuss next week, help them prepare their amended Form 6X’s for all four years, 2012—2015. That was likely more expensive than the fines.
This will not be finalized until the Commission on Ethics meets on October 20 in Tallahassee to formally accept what they call “stipulations,” which are punishments agreed upon by the Commission’s Advocate and the violators’ attorneys. (I’ll be going up there again to keep an eye on the proceedings.)
The amount of financial mis-reporting was even higher than I’d estimated, perhaps by a factor of two or three. I had counted 51 errors of form (missing addresses, notarizations, etc.), $1.8 million in misreported asset values, and a guess at $1.3 million in under-reported income. All four got every year wrong, in one case millions of dollars on a single year.
This is important mainly because these commissioners manage a budget of a half billion dollars/year of our tax money. Filling out their yearly financial disclosures is really easy. You simply have to read directions, for example, how to report your IRA and brokerage accounts: “Note that the product contained in a[n] . . . IRA . . . account . . . is your asset, not the account . . . itself…. Do not list simply “stocks and bonds” …For example, list “Stock (Williams Constructions Co.)” “ [Emphasis in the original.] Every one, in every year, just listed “Investments (Wells Fargo)” and the like.
More shocking is the cavalier attitude they took towards their financial reporting. It is as though they didn’t bother to look up the Appraiser’s value of their real estate each year, or even glance at their brokerage accounts. Or bother to report their capital gains on their sale of real property as “income.”
Of lesser importance is exposing their hypocrisy in their witch hunt of SUFA and Linda Gottwald in 2010, costing her her reputation and noble organization, on the basis of an improper audit, illegally released while still preliminary, which was used as an excuse to shut down her business, give it to Commissioner Neugent’s friends (who ran it into the ground), and sue for years Linda’s wonderful, animal-loving Board of Directors, against all decency, as well as against federal and state law.
Linda made fewer and smaller errors in total for her eight years of running SUFA than any of the commissioners made in each and every year. Further, Linda was an animal person, doing the accounting as needed. Our Commissioners’ main job is handling our finances. The easiest part of their job should be filling in the two-page disclosure form every year. There are no tough decisions on the Form 6. How on earth can we trust them with complicated financial challenges?
It is less than a year since George Neugent racked up his own three violations by the Ethics Commission, making this likely the first time in Florida history that all sitting members of a civic body are guilty in the same 12-month period. Oddly, he was fined only $500/year on his financial disclosure errors. But at the time, when I complained about the lightness of the punishment, one of the Ethics Commissioners argued that additionally giving George “Public Reprimand and Censure” was a serious punishment, because public officials really cared about that.
In fact, within the month of this “punishment,” these four newly guilty commissioners made George honorary County Mayor. That is why you got to see George on national TV with Bill Nelson for Irma. It clearly shows what our commissioners think of ethics, for George or for their own sworn statements. This ticked me off so much that, as I reported before, I decided to look up their financial disclosure forms to see what I could find.
It was far worse than anyone could have expected. Every complaint I made was sustained by the Florida Commission on Ethics this time. (With George, they added four ridiculous charges which they then dismissed, making me, the Complainant, look like most of my accusations were unfounded, when, in fact, the bad charges were the ones the Ethics Commission made up. This time they stuck to my charges, thank you very much.)
In coming weeks I will discuss each commissioner’s reporting violations in detail with links to the Commission’s own Report of Investigation for each. A highlight will be each one’s explanation for why they done wrong.