By Mary Hladky
Suspended Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie’s trial on public corruption charges will start on March 23.
Bruce Zimet, Haynie’s criminal defense attorney, and Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes requested the trial date at a Sept. 10 hearing before Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen. Both anticipated a five-day trial.
Over the past year, Zimet has repeatedly said Haynie would not accept a plea deal.
Haynie, 63, a fixture in Boca Raton politics for 18 years, did not appear at the hearing. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
If Haynie were acquitted, the court schedule would leave her scant time to reclaim the mayor’s office. The next round of City Council terms begins March 31.
Haynie was arrested on April 24, 2018, on charges of official misconduct, perjury, misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflicts. She faces more than 20 years in prison.
Then-Gov. Rick Scott suspended her from office, but she has not resigned. Scott Singer was elected mayor four months after her arrest.
Prosecutors contend that Haynie used her position on the City Council to vote on four matters that financially benefited James Batmasian, the city’s largest downtown commercial landowner, and failed to disclose income she had 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 required by the state, 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 Haynie for voting on matters that financially benefited Batmasian, reached a settlement with her in which they reprimanded and fined her for failing to disclose a conflict of interest, but dismissed a second allegation that Haynie misued her public office.
The Florida Commission on Ethics in October found probable cause that Haynie violated state ethics laws in eight instances, but that case is pending resolution of the criminal case.
The state commission, which also probed Haynie’s financial links to Batmasian and Investments Limited, found that she failed to disclose income, acted to financially benefit herself and her husband and improperly voted on matters that benefited Batmasian and his wife, Marta, without disclosing a conflict of interest.
The evidence gathered against Haynie by the three agencies is similar. One key difference is that while state prosecutors initially determined Haynie voted on four matters that financially benefited Batmasian from 2014 through 2017, state ethics investigators found 17 votes between 2012 and 2016.
New discovery filed by the state in June shows a fifth instance in which Haynie and the four other City Council members voted to allow Batmasian to build eight townhomes in 2015.