By Mary Hladky
Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, who was charged with public corruption in 2018, pleaded guilty to lesser charges on April 1.
The plea deal calls for her to serve no jail time, but she will be on probation for 12 months. During that time, she can not seek elected office, according to court records.
Prosecutors dropped four felony counts of official misconduct and perjury, and one other misdemeanor..
Had Haynie gone to trial and been convicted, she faced more than 20 years in prison.
“I want to convey my sincere apology to all the citizens of Boca Raton for my actions and any negative light that my case cast upon our city,” Haynie said in a statement today to Boca Raton residents.
“Throughout my personal and professional career, I have prided myself on taking responsibility for my conduct and performance,” she said. “The citizens of Boca Raton should accept nothing less than the highest level of ethics from their elected officials. I failed to live up to that standard and today, accepted responsibility by entering my guilty plea.”
She will not seek public office again, even after the conclusion of her probation, Haynie said.
Bruce Zimet, Haynie’s criminal defense attorney, has repeatedly said in the past that she would not accept a plea deal.
The decision to do so “was made because there was a reasonable offer from the State Attorney’s Office,” he said.
Noting that the counts alleging corruption were dismissed, Zimet said, “She never would plead to a felony or misdemeanor involving any allegation of corruption. This was framed as a quid pro quo case and that never happened. Any plea deal that involved that would be a total nonstarter.
“There was no corruption from her,” he said. “Her vote was never sold.”
In charging documents, prosecutors contended that Haynie used her position on the City Council to vote on six matters that financially 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 found that Haynie failed to report $335,000 in income on financial disclosure forms, including $84,000 from Batmasian or his company Investments Limited, from 2014 through 2017.
Before her arrest, the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, which also investigated her for voting on matters that financially benefitted Batmasian, reached a settlement with her in which she was reprimanded and fined for failing to disclose a conflict of interest. A second allegation that Haynie misused her public office was dismissed.
The Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause that Haynie violated state ethics laws in eight instances, but that case has been on hold while the criminal case proceeded. Kerrie Stillman, a spokeswoman for the state ethics commission, said the outcome of the criminal case has no bearing on the ethics case.
In cases where probable cause has been found, the commission must either hold a full evidentiary hearing, or the commission advocate and Haynie’s ethics attorney could reach a settlement agreement, she said.
The state commission found that Haynie failed to disclose income, acted to financially benefit herself and her husband, and improperly voted on matters that benefitted Batmasian and his wife, Marta, without disclosing a conflict of interest.
Batmasian was not charged by state prosecutors.
During the waning days of his presidency, Donald Trump issued a full pardon to Batmasian in an unrelated matter.
Batmasian, a Republican donor, served eight months in prison in 2008 for failing to pay the IRS $253,513 in payroll taxes for employees of his real estate company. He reimbursed the government the full amount owed.
Haynie was a fixture in Boca Raton politics for 18 years, and her arrest shocked residents and City Council members who learned about it when she turned herself in to the county jail while the rest of the City Council was meeting on April 24, 2018.
“We are all stunned, flabbergasted…” now-Mayor Scott Singer said at the time.
Former Gov. Rick Scott suspended her from office, but she never resigned. Singer was elected mayor on Aug. 28, 2018 for the remainder of Haynie’s term and has since been re-elected.
“She plans to move forward and put all this behind her,” Zimet said when asked about Haynie’s plans. “She is vibrant person who has a lot to offer her community. She plans to enjoy her life in the years to come.”