By Mary Hladky
The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause that suspended Mayor Susan Haynie violated state ethics laws in eight instances.
A full evidentiary hearing can now be held on the allegations. A probable cause finding is not a determination that Haynie violated ethics laws, but that there is enough evidence of a violation to allow the investigation to proceed.
Haynie, 63, was arrested on April 24 on seven public corruption charges, including official misconduct, perjury, misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflicts. Gov. Rick Scott suspended her from office.
She pleaded not guilty and waived her right to a speedy trial.
The week before her arrest, Haynie reached a settlement with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics which investigated her for voting on matters that financially benefitted downtown landowner James Batmasian.
She admitted to violating the county’s ethics code and agreed to pay a $500 fine for failing to disclose a conflict of interest. The commission dismissed a second allegation that Haynie misused her public office.
The state criminal charges and ethics violation allegations all concern Haynie’s financial links to Batmasian and his company Investments Limited, as well as on alleged conflict of interest in voting on matters involving Batmasian that came before the city council.
The state investigation found that Haynie failed to report $335,000 in income in disclosure forms required by the state, including $84,000 from Batmasian or Investments Limited, from 2014 through 2017. She also voted four times on matters that benefitted Batmasian, the state has charged.
The state ethics commission issued the probable cause findings on Oct. 19. Five of the allegations involve Haynie filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms for 2012-2016. Probable cause also was found that she misused her position to conceal a business relationship with Batmasian and his wife, and acted to benefit her and her husband’s businesses and the businesses of the Batmasians.
In addition, probable cause was found that she voted on matters she knew would benefit herself or her husband, and that she had a conflicting contractural relationship because of her business relationship with the Batmasians and their companies while they or their representatives appeared before the city council.
Former BocaWatch publisher Al Zucaro, a Haynie adversary who was defeated by her in the 2017 mayoral race, filed complaints against her with both the county and state ethics commissions after The Palm Beach Post published an investigation that detailed financial links between Haynie and Batmasian or his company Investments Limited.
Mark Bannon, the county ethics commission’s executive director, has said he did not act on the complaint because he received it after his office had launched an investigation.
Haynie denied she acted improperly and said she had requested in 2013 an opinion from the county ethics commission on whether she should recuse herself from voting on matters involving Batmasian. The opinion said she could vote.
But the opinion was narrowly written, and Bannon has said Haynie should have understood the opinion to mean she should not vote when Batmasian was a developer or applicant of a project coming to the city council for approval.
The county ethics commission levied the stiffest fine it could levy. But the state ethics commission has the power to seek her removal from office. While she is suspended from office, she has not resigned.