By Mary Hladky
Suspended Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie’s trial on public corruption charges is scheduled to start 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 Court 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, 64, a fixture in Boca Raton politics for 18 years, did not appear at the hearing. She has pleaded not guilty.
If Haynie were acquitted, she potentially could reclaim the mayor’s office, but only for a matter of days. Even if Gov. Ron DeSantis immediately reinstated her, her term of office would end on March 31 when the next City Council terms begin.
Mayor Scott Singer, who was elected four months after Haynie’s arrest, is seeking re-election.
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.
Former Gov. Rick Scott suspended her from office, but she has not resigned.
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 it reprimanded and fined her for failing to disclose a conflict of interest, but dismissed a second allegation that Haynie misused her public office.
The Florida Commission on Ethics last 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 two additional times in which Haynie voted on matters involving Batmasian.
The more significant was Batmasian’s request to build eight townhomes on 1.1 acres at 101 Pine Circle in Boca Raton. He sought approval for rezoning that would allow him to nearly double the number of units he could build on the land and sought permission to abandon a 10-foot public utility easement, according to city documents.
The Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recommended approval on Aug. 20, 2015, and the City Council unanimously granted approval two months later on Oct. 27.
Batmasian bought the property for $737,000 in 2012 and sold it for $1.5 million in 2016, county property records show. The townhomes were never built.
In the second case, the City Council unanimously granted conditional approval on Dec. 8, 2015, to allow a restaurant in Plum Plaza at 141 NW 20th St.
The six matters were uncontroversial, and all but one received unanimous or near unanimous City Council support.
Haynie’s vote made a difference in only one instance. In an appeal of a Community Appearance Board denial of approval for two signs, the City Council reversed the CAB’s decision by a 3-2 vote on Jan. 10, 2017, with Haynie in the majority.