FDLE looking into complaint that state CFO broke the law
Patronis is accused of releasing a harassment complaint while the case was open
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is facing a state law enforcement probe for releasing a sexual-harassment complaint against Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin to the public.
But Patronis is refusing to back down from his call that Rubin be fired from the post, and instead on Wednesday intensified his demand that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet consider the termination next week.
Patronis based his latest request that Rubin be fired on an inspector general investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Rubin, who was hired by DeSantis and the Cabinet in February at the urging of the chief financial officer.
The report, prepared by Office of Financial Regulation Inspector General Bradley Perry, remains sealed but a five-page executive summary was released Wednesday.
“I can say I believe now more than ever that Mr. Rubin is unfit for office,” Patronis said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “If Cabinet does not act on July 25, Mr. Rubin will continue to collect a $13,000 a month salary and the complainants who came forward will remain open to the fear that he may someday return to office.”
The executive summary says that Rubin, who had been on the job for 57 days before being suspended by Patronis on May 10, violated department policy prohibiting misconduct.
“Other agency employees and candidates for agency employment alleged misconduct including that Commissioner Rubin made discriminatory, offensive and other inappropriate comments; took and held an item without permission; requested subordinate employees to perform personal tasks, including finding his personal residence, moving and repairing his personal belongings, locating house cleaning services, and accommodating his personal travel needs; offered the use of his personal residence to subordinate employees; and resided in housing provided through family of a subordinate employee,” Perry’s report states.
Rubin, who once was pushed by Patronis for the position as the state’s top financial regulator, has accused Patronis of “pay to play --- or else” politics that included demands for a $1 million political contributions from Rubin’s father, who is a wealthy developer, for the February hiring.
Patronis’ comments Wednesday are the latest salvo in an escalating war of words --- and legal actions --- involving Rubin, the chief financial officer, and others in their sphere of influence.
In his statement, Patronis said “my staff has also heard” that Rubin’s acquaintances are releasing information about women who have made complaints against the financial regulator.
And Patronis noted that Rubin’s attorney, Mike Tein of Miami, was among the lawyers who have provided legal defense to financier Jeffery Epstein, who was recently arrested on federal charges for sex trafficking of minors.
“Intimidating victims and those who file sexual harassment complaints at the state level must end immediately,” Patronis wrote. “There should be more penalties in our laws to punish those who intimidate complainants for coming forward with their accounts of sexual harassment. Current law does not go far enough.”
But in a telephone interview Wednesday evening, Tein accused Patronis of having "weaponized the complaint" against Rubin for a selfish purpose.
"But what can we expect? If you cross Mr. Patronis, he will run you out of town on a rail," Tein said. "Aren't we all tired of ugly Florida politics that chase away honest public servants? Enough is enough."
Patronis’ latest call to terminate Rubin’s employment comes amid a flurry of activity over the past days, in which:
_ Rubin requested whistleblower protection to block Patronis’ request that he be fired;
_ Kimberly Grippa --- whom Rubin refused to hire as general counsel but Patronis later tried to hire --- filed a lawsuit seeking all of Rubin’s emails, text messages and calendars, subsequent to his February hiring by the governor and Cabinet;
_The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was asked to investigate the May 10 release by Patronis of a redacted complaint against Rubin;
_ And the results of the inspector general inquiry into the charges against Rubin were delivered to the offices of DeSantis and the Cabinet.
Wednesday began with aides for DeSantis and members of the Cabinet --- comprised of Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried --- sidestepping a discussion of Patronis’ effort to include Rubin's firing on the July 25 Cabinet meeting agenda.
Beau Beaubien, DeSantis’s director of Cabinet affairs, said the agenda posted on Wednesday, which didn’t list Rubin’s termination, was a draft that would be finalized Thursday.
“We have just a list of the anticipated agency items that will be coming up next week, on Thursday,” Beaubien said. “So, we’ll proceed through those as normal. The regular agenda will be posted to the Cabinet website, in time for the meeting.”
The Cabinet aides’ meeting came a day after Patronis’ Director of Investigations Mike Shoaf told Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who represents one of the women who lodged a complaint about Rubin, that her concerns were being forwarded to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Our office has made no findings in this matter,” Shoaf wrote to Cruz on Tuesday. “To ensure your client’s complaint receives an independent review, our office has forwarded the issues and concerns to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Office of Executive Investigations. They have been requested to review the complaint and take action deemed appropriate.”
Once the FDLE review is complete, Moody’s office will determine if an administrative investigation is warranted, Shoaf wrote.
Cruz had asked Moody’s office to investigate whether Patronis broke state law by releasing the harassment complaint, which Cruz said should have been kept confidential.
“FDLE, the attorney general, and the chief inspector general are the appropriate entities to investigate this matter,” Cruz said in a text late Tuesday.
But on Wednesday, Patronis’ office released a July 11 memo by Department of Financial Services General Counsel Peter Penrod saying that the release of the complaints was necessary to comply with the state’s broad public records laws and that the documents had been redacted to protect the potential victims.
“The department, under advice of counsel, decided to remove the identifying information of the alleged victims and released the documents to call for a transparent investigation of the head of an agency under control of the Cabinet,” Penrod wrote.
Cruz, however, called the memo “a misguided analysis that ignores the plain meaning of the statute.”
Copyright WJXT and News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.