Four County Commissioners Fined for Sixteen Ethics Violations

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.

12 thoughts on “Four County Commissioners Fined for Sixteen Ethics Violations

  1. Wow. Just Wow. While we generally can assume there are special unwritten rules for Key’s leaders, this one can’t be overlooked. Thanks from this tax payer for being our watchdog. The information is particularly troublesome in light of the harm they caused to the animal shelter and Linda, personally.

  2. It’s a national epidemic. We’re witnessing the decline and fall of Rome again. It’s the implosion of an empire that is too big for its britches. Lying and cheating are “smart.”
    The Owners are getting bolder in their class domination laws which the courts support instead of protecting our rights to life and liberty.
    It makes good drama and is fun to watch if you realize that what goes down comes around so you will laugh when the pressure drops on the wealthy and makes them cry for help from those they oppressed.

  3. When deposed during the Monroe County vs. SUFA litigation, Neugent wore shorts and a tropical shirt and joked about whether he should call his political chums and warn them that they might be in trouble. Kohlage became petulant and at one point, left the table because he was so angry that anyone would dare question him. I wonder if this cavalier attitude will prevail during the Ethics meeting. Superb reporting, Rick, and thank you, KWTN, for having the courage to lean forward on this story.

  4. You are my freaking hero!

    Funny story – I was looking up the latest financial disclosures just the other day and was boggling at how complete and understandable they were. Then I saw this and thought: Oh, no wonder. Lol.

    Thank you!!!

  5. When will this be happening to the corrupt city of Key West ? Just maybe KW will be covering it’s own ass. This is the result when corrupt get too bold and they get investigated.

  6. A good indicator is whether officials and politicians “re-up” over and over again. If an elected or appointed official is performing a real “public service,” then they would want to make their contribution and promptly step aside for someone else to make the sacrifice and perform a public service.

    If they have a good deal going, then they will work like hell to stay!

  7. I know you don’t want to hear this but it’s the truth. When these “commissioners” decided to spend OVER $10 MILLION dollars instead of a mere $400 thousand/year on helicopters it smells! I know all the arguments against Life Net and we can debate them all you want. But it’s absurd to spend that kind of money. And wouldn’t that $9.6 million be nice to have right now after Irma. Maybe now we know what really was going on!

  8. Great Job Rick! No one can understate your efforts, and they go well appreciated. Keep them on task. I always remember their flipant disregard for the inventory issues I brought up….

    Corrupt is an understatement…

    Now we see in North Florida .. FDLE can arrest a clerk for letting his girlfriend use one laptop…Ha! Forget about a quarter mill in equipment.

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