By Mary Hladky
The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause that suspended Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie violated state ethics laws in eight instances.
The examination of Haynie’s financial links to downtown landowners James and Marta Batmasian and their company Investments Limited found that she failed to disclose income, acted to financially benefit herself and her husband, and improperly voted on matters that benefitted the Batmasians without declaring a conflict of interest.
Commission advocate Elizabeth A. Miller, an assistant attorney general, minced no words in a stinging report to the commission.
Haynie “consistently voted on measures benefitting the Batmasians and/or their affiliates between 2012 and 2016 while surreptitiously reaping the financial rewards of their business association,” Miller wrote.
“When confronted with the possibility of impropriety, [Haynie] consistently denied any association, involvement or knowledge. The bank account records revealed her deception. These acts and omissions indicate a corrupt intent,” Miller stated in her recommendation that the commission find probable cause.
In her concluding analysis, Miller said that Haynie knew her ties to the Batmasians created a conflict of interest “because, for years, she concealed her private interest to the public and, even more recently, to the commission’s investigator.”
Haynie could not properly discharge her duties as a public official concerning the Batmasians “when a source of her livelihood was dependent upon their continued business relationship and the success of the Batmasians’ companies,” she wrote.
The Oct. 19 probable cause findings are not a determination that Haynie violated state laws, but a conclusion that there is enough evidence of violations to allow the investigation to proceed.
Haynie now has the option of trying to reach a settlement with the commission. If not, a full evidentiary hearing will be held on the allegations.
Bruce Zimet, Haynie’s criminal defense attorney, said after a brief case status hearing on Oct. 26 that she will seek an evidentiary hearing.
Haynie’s ethics attorney, Mark Herron, did not comment.
Haynie was suspended from office in April by Gov. Rick Scott after the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office lodged seven public corruption charges against her, but she has not resigned. The state ethics commission has the power to seek her removal from office.
But that rarely happens. More typically, a public official is fined up to a maximum of $10,000 per violation.
The state ethics commission followed the same investigatory path blazed by the State Attorney’s Office and the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, which settled with Haynie after she admitted to violating the county’s ethics code and agreed to pay a $500 fine for failing to disclose a conflict of interest.
Investigators examined her financial disclosure reports, business dealings, bank records and the votes she cast as a Boca Raton City Council member and Community Redevelopment Agency commissioner.
The evidence gathered against her by the three agencies is similar. One key difference is that while state prosecutors determined that Haynie voted on four matters that financially benefitted James Batmasian from 2014 through 2017, state ethics investigators found 17 votes between 2012 and 2016.
State ethics investigators found that Haynie did not list on financial disclosure forms income she derived from two companies she and her husband, Neil, had formed — Community Reliance and Computer Golf Software of Nevada.
Bank records show that she wrote checks to herself from 2014 through 2016 totaling $72,000 from the Computer Golf Software of Nevada bank account.
She also wrote checks to herself totaling at least $5,600 from the Community Reliance bank account.
And while Haynie has said she was not involved with Community Reliance or Computer Golf Software, bank records show she signed Community Reliance checks that were made out to businesses including Allstate, AT&T and Office Depot.
She also did not report rental income deposited in the couple’s joint bank account from two properties they own in Key Largo and Boca Raton that totaled $182,307.
Community Reliance, a property management company, was paid by the master association of Tivoli Park, a 1,600-unit apartment complex in Deerfield Beach, where 80 percent of the units were owned by James and Marta Batmasian and most of the board members worked for Investments Limited.
Haynie “intentionally concealed several years’ worth of business and financial dealings with James and Marta Batmasian and/or their companies,” Miller wrote. “She failed to disclose any common interest even though Community Reliance did tens of thousands of dollars in business with the Batmasians while [Haynie] cast votes benefitting their companies.”
The criminal charges against Haynie, 63, include official misconduct, perjury, misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflicts.
She has pleaded not guilty and waived her right to a speedy trial.
The state investigation found that Haynie failed to report $335,000 in income in disclosure forms required by the state, including $84,000 from Batmasian or Investments Limited, from 2014 through 2017.
Former BocaWatch publisher Al Zucaro, a Haynie adversary whom she defeated in the 2017 mayoral race, filed complaints against her with both the county and state ethics commissions after The Palm Beach Post published an investigation that detailed financial links between Haynie and the Batmasians.
“These things were uncovered during the course of the [mayoral] race and they have proven to be accurate,” Zucaro said. “I am sure this [probable cause finding] is not welcome news to Ms. Haynie and her criminal defense team.”
Mark Bannon, the county ethics commission’s executive director, has said he did not act on Zucaro’s complaint because he received it after his office had launched an investigation.
In the county ethics case, Haynie denied she acted improperly and said she had requested in 2013 an opinion from the county ethics commission on whether she should recuse herself from voting on matters involving Batmasian. The opinion said she could vote.
But the opinion was narrowly written, and Bannon has said Haynie should have understood the opinion to mean she should not vote when Batmasian was a developer or applicant of a project coming to the City Council for approval.