By Mary Hladky
Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie was booked into the Palm Beach County jail April 24 on seven charges related to her city votes on matters that financially benefitted the city’s largest downtown commercial landowner.
Haynie, who on April 16 settled a case against her by the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics on similar allegations, was charged with three counts of official misconduct, a third degree felony; perjury in an official proceeding, a third degree felony; misuse of public office, a first degree misdemeanor; corrupt misuse of public office, a first degree misdemeanor; and failure to disclose voting conflict, a first degree misdemeanor.
The charges were brought by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office public corruption unit.
Haynie arrived at the jail at 7:38 p.m. April 24, and was released on $12,000 bail about 90 minutes later.
“Mrs. Haynie wholeheartedly and completely denies the allegations which we plan to fight in court to the fullest extent,” her attorney, Leonard Feuer, said in an email to The Coastal Star.
Haynie, a Republican, withdrew from the District 4 county commission race in a two-sentence letter received by Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher the same day she was charged.
The remaining candidates to replace term-limited Steven Abrams are Democrat Robert Weinroth, who recently resigned from the Boca Raton city commission to run, and Republican William Vale, a Boca Del Mar Improvement Association board member.
News of the arrest, first reported by The Palm Beach Post, stunned her fellow city commissioners who were in the midst of a regular meeting when they got the word.
They had expected her to comment at the meeting on the county ethics case. That same morning, she said in an email to The Coastal Star that she would do so.
“I have no intention of resigning,” she wrote.
But she did not show up for the meeting, and City Manager Leif Ahnell said he had heard that Haynie was ill.
“I find news of this as I sit up here as beyond upsetting,” said council member Andrea O’Rourke.
Council members Monica Mayotte described the arrest as an “awful situation”, adding that it was “deeply disturbing.”
“We are all surprised, flabbergasted… and processing this,” said Deputy Mayor Scott Singer.
The investigation began in March 2017 when the State Attorney’s Office received complaints that Haynie used her position on the city council to vote on issues having a favorable financial impact on commercial landowner James Batmasian, the probable cause affidavit states.
The state investigation found that Haynie failed to report $335,000 in income, including $84,000 from Batmasian or from his company Investments Limited, from 2014 through 2017.
Of the total, $45,000 came from rent paid to Haynie for a property she owns in Key Largo.
Haynie and her husband, Neil, formed Community Reliance, a property management company, in 2007 which managed Tivoli Park, a 1,600 unit apartment complex in Deerfield Beach. Batmasian and his wife, Marta, own 80 percent of the Tivoli Park Units, and five of the six Tivoli board members work for Investments Limited, the Post has reported.
Community Reliance earned between $10,057 and $16,490 between 2014 and 2017 from Tivoli Park's master association, according to the affidavit.
"This amount is well below the expected income for managing a property of this size, which would normally command an income of nearly $150,000 to $200,000 per year," the affidavit states.
Haynie told investigators that she had no involvement in running Community Reliance and another company she and her husband started, Computer Golf Software of Nevada, Inc., and derived no income from them.
But bank records revealed she wrote two checks to herself from the Community Reliance account totaling $5,300 and received $72,600 from Computer Golf Software.
During 2016 and 2017, Hayne cast four votes that benefitted Batmasian, the affidavit states.
Haynie left Community Reliance in 2016 and announced in December that her husband had ended his business relationship with Tivoli Park master association.
On April 16, Haynie admitted to violating the county's ethics code and agreed to pay a $500 fine for voting on matters that financially benefitted Batmasian.
In the settlement between Haynie and the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, she agreed to accept a letter of reprimand and pay the stiffest fine the commission could levy for failing to disclose a conflict of interest. The ethics commission dismissed its second allegation that Haynie misused her public office.
The ethics commission launched its investigation of Haynie in November, one day before the Post reported that Community Reliance had been paid by the Tivoli Park master association.
The article raised the question of whether Haynie had a conflict of interest in voting on matters involving Batmasian and should have recused herself.
The ethics commission investigation corroborated the Post’s key findings, but also unearthed an additional, and more direct, financial link between the Haynies and Batmasian.
Community Reliance was paid at least $64,000 in 2016 and 2017 for installing security cameras at several properties owned by Batmasian, including at Royal Palm Place in downtown Boca Raton, according to the commission’s investigation file which was made public on April 17. Investments Limited made the payments to Community Reliance.
Haynie has denied that she acted improperly and said she had requested in 2013 an opinion from the ethics commission, which advised her she could vote.
But the opinion was narrowly written and was based on a specific instance in which Batmasian was neither the applicant or the developer of a project coming to the city council for approval. In other instances, he was the applicant or developer.
Mark Bannon, the ethics commission’s executive director, said Haynie should have understood the opinion to mean that she should not vote in such circumstances.
“The advisory opinion said (Batmasian) was not the developer or applicant, which tells you when he is the developer or applicant, you can’t do that (vote)”, Bannon said.
On the dismissed misuse of office count, the ethics commission found that probable cause existed, but determined the violations were unintentional because, based on the 2013 advisory opinion, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser told Haynie she did not have a conflict of interest that prevented her from voting.
On the conflict of interest count, the commission at its April 16 meeting did not determine whether or not Haynie’s actions were intentional.
Ethics commissioners were tied 2-2 on that, with one member absent. The settlement was reached before commissioners held a full hearing on the case, and several commissioners said they did not have enough information to decide this issue. As a result, they made no finding.
The settlement states that Haynie “believes it to be in her best interest to resolve the issues contained in the complaint and avoid the expense and time of litigation in this matter. Accordingly, (Haynie) admits to participating in and voting on matters that gave a special financial benefit to a customer or client of her outside business and she accepts a letter of reprimand.”
In a statement after the settlement, Haynie said: “I have accepted a letter of instruction, a letter of reprimand and fine as part of the dismissal of all complaints and conclusion of this matter. I am glad the issue is resolved, as I believed it would be, with a fair process by the Commission on Ethics.”
Al Zucaro, a Haynie adversary who was defeated by her in last year’s mayoral race, filed complaints last year with both the county ethics commission and State Commission on Ethics. The state ethics investigation is ongoing.
Since Haynie settled the county ethics case, Zucaro has repeatedly called on Haynie to resign.
“We have an elected official who has admitted to violating the code of ethics,” he told The Coastal Star. “The bottom line is she should resign now.”