By Mary Hladky
Suspended Mayor Susan Haynie has pleaded not guilty to state corruption charges and asked that they be tossed out.
Bruce Zimet, Haynie’s new criminal defense attorney, filed the not guilty plea and demand for trial on May 20, two days after he asked that the criminal charges be dismissed. Haynie has denied the allegations.
A fixture in city politics for the past 18 years, Haynie was arrested on April 24 on four felony and three misdemeanor charges, including official misconduct, perjury in an official proceeding, misuse of public office, corrupt misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflict. She faces more than 20 years in prison.
Gov. Rick Scott suspended her from office and she withdrew from the District 4 county commission race.
Her unexpected arrest has roiled city politics and set into motion the elevation of Deputy Mayor Scott Singer to the top job and an Aug. 28 special election to elect a mayor to serve until the March 2020 end of Haynie’s term of office, unless Haynie prevails in her legal case, and to fill Singer’s seat on the council.
Prosecutors contend that Haynie used her position on the city council to vote on four matters that benefitted James Batmasian, the city’s largest downtown commercial landowner, and failed to disclose income she received from him.
The investigation by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office public corruption unit found that Haynie failed to report $335,000 in income in disclosure forms required by the state, including $84,000 from Batmasian or his company Investments Limited, from 2014 through 2017.
She told investigators that she had no involvement in running two companies she and her husband founded, property management firm Community Reliance and Computer Golf Software of Nevada, and derived no income from them.
But subpoenaed bank records revealed she wrote checks to herself totaling $5,300 from the Community Reliance account and received $72,000 from Computer Golf Software.
Zimet, a highly regarded Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor who replaced Leonard Feuer as her attorney, cites deficiencies in the charges against Haynie in the dismissal motion.
Chief among them is one that involves a state anti-corruption law that was amended by the legislature in 2016 to make it easier for prosecutors to prove corruption. The law initially said the state had to establish that a public official acted with “corrupt intent.” The amended law changed that to “knowingly and intentionally,” a lesser standard of proof.
In two of the felony official misconduct charges against Haynie, prosecutors said she acted “knowingly and intentionally” even though her alleged crimes occurred before that language went into effect. Therefore, Haynie was charged with a “non-existent crime,” the motion states.
Prosecutors can amend the charging document.
State law requires Scott to reinstate Haynie if she is acquitted at trial or if the charges are dismissed. She would then return to her job and complete her term of office.