UPDATE: Judge finds corruption charges are 'sufficient'
By Mary Hladky
The Florida Commission on Ethics is investigating whether suspended Mayor Susan Haynie violated state ethics laws while she also is fighting criminal charges lodged by state prosecutors.
A state ethics probe was widely thought to be underway after Al Zucaro, a Haynie adversary, filed a complaint with the agency last year, alleging she failed to report income on financial disclosure forms required by the state, including payments from the city’s largest downtown commercial landowner who had matters coming before the Boca Raton City Council.
But the state ethics commission has not confirmed or denied the investigation under rules that don’t allow its officials to comment until a ruling is issued.
The investigation was confirmed by a confidential August letter from the commission to Zucaro, who was defeated in his second bid to become mayor by Scott Singer in the Aug. 28 special election.
Zucaro provided a copy of the letter to The Coastal Star.
The letter states that a private probable cause hearing will be held on Sept. 7 at the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. No witnesses may be called and no new evidence introduced at the hearing, it states.
“The sole purpose of the probable cause hearing is to evaluate the results of the preliminary investigation,” the letter says. Zucaro, Haynie and their attorneys may attend the hearing.
Mark Herron, Haynie’s attorney on ethics matters, did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.
“If [the hearing] actually takes place, my intention is to go,” Zucaro said in August.
A separate investigation by the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, which investigated Hayne for voting on matters that financially benefited downtown landowner James Batmasian, concluded with an April settlement. Haynie 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.
Zucaro, who was defeated by Haynie in his first Boca Raton mayoral bid last year, also filed a complaint with the county ethics commission. Mark Bannon, the 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.
The state ethics commission has the power to seek Haynie’s removal from office. Penalties it can impose range from a reprimand to a recommendation to the governor that an official be removed. The most common penalty is a fine of up to $10,000 per violation of ethics laws, said commission spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman. Gov. Rick Scott suspended Haynie from office three days after she was criminally charged, but she has not resigned.
Haynie was arrested on April 24 and released on bail. She is charged with four felonies and three misdemeanors, including official misconduct, perjury in an official proceeding, misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflict. She has pleaded not guilty and waived her right to a speedy trial.
Haynie, through her criminal defense attorney Bruce Zimet, has asked that the charges be dismissed. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is set to be heard on Sept. 11 before Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley.