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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Did George LeMieux mislead over commenting on ethics complaint?



For months, Sen. George LeMieux has been ducking questions about a Bar complaint that a political consultant filed against him over his role in negotiations between the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida East Coast, which owns the rail corridor that the state wants for passenger rail.


The accusation: LeMieux, as a private attorney with Gunster Yoakley, represented conflicting clients –the state and FEC. The company was listed as a Gunster client (as well as FEC’s development arm) on the firm’s official website as late as last August 2009. Since 2007, Gunster has earned $621,857.95 from taxpayers on the contract, according to FDOT. All the documents are attached below.

LeMieux wouldn’t talk about the complaint. His office barely would, save to say it’s “meritless.” Gunster wouldn’t comment, either. It would only provide an official who spoke on background to say Gunster stopped representing FEC in 2005 – so no conflict existed. Both said that they didn’t want to break attorney-client privilege by publicly discussing client business. Another reason for the silence to the press: Florida bar rules prohibit people from discussing bar complaints. Certainly a good point.

Except for one thing. It’s false.

Marc Caputo

Asked if a so-called “respondent” to an ethics complaint could comment in the media about the case, Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker said “sure… There’s a good reason they wouldn’t defend themselves in the media. But they’re not prohibited.”

Also, the section of Bar rules [3-7.1(a)] that LeMieux’s office cited as reason for its can’t-comment stance only says that he or others would only be prohibited from speaking about the case if ordered by a judge or a referee. But the case hasn’t even reached that stage of the process.

So either LeMieux and Gunster had their people lie. Or they just don’t know the rules of the bar – strange considering that LeMieux is a top-notch lawyer who earned about $1.65 million from the firm before his former boss, Gov. Charlie Crist, tapped him to become a U.S. Sen. fill-in when Mel Martinez quit. (LeMieux also took along an extra $11k from taxpayers in unpaid leave).

LeMieux was worth every penny to Gunster. As the chief of staff for Crist, he helped hire and supervise every top state official who would or could ink big contracts with Gunster on behalf of the state. Eleven days before LeMieux returned to work at his old firm, Gunster, it won a no-bid contract with the Florida Department of Transportation to work on the FEC rail corridor. More here on that.

Now, as senator, LeMieux is heavily involved in trying to steer federal money to Florida for more rail projects – which could earn his twice-former firm of Gunster even more money. It’s not the only former LeMieux business interest whose financial well being is furthered by his role as senator. Taking up the partisan Republican line, LeMieux is actively bashing the Democratic health-reform legislation that was also trashed by Blue Cross Blue Shield, another former LeMieux client, as is Health Management Associates.

Complaints about LeMieux’s/Gunster’s alleged dual representation of FDOT and FEC first surfaced in September on the blog New Argument by Andrew Perez, a friend of political heavy-hitter Roger Stone and a former employee of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, the now-defunct law firm of accused Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, a major Crist contributor.

About that time, we spoke with FEC consultant and former FEC president Adolfo Henriquez who said the company hadn’t been represented by Gunster for years before the contract involving LeMieux. LeMieux’s office and Gunster said the same thing, saying that the website listing FEC and Flagler Development were outdated.

Miami-Dade political consultant Mark Thibault later filed a complaint.

LeMieux, who refused to return calls on the matter, said through a spokeswoman in November that the allegations Thibault’s complaint was patently false, and suggested that printing the allegations was an unfair smear. But then LeMieux asked for an extension to file a response to the “meritless” complaint.

In his and Gunster’s responses, both note that Gunster had stopped representing FEC long before the FDOT contract on unrelated business. Gunster’s general counsel, Donald Beuttenmuller, also questions Thibault’s agenda, noting he’s a political consultant.

In his answer to their response, Thibault accuses LeMieux and the firm of lying. He has dug emails that he says suggest Gunster was representing FEC’s interests at the same time as the state. And he notes that the firm’s website had listed the company as a client long after it allegedly ceased representing the firm.

“There has been a tenor of tolerance from inside dealing and people benefiting from public service. I feel this really crosses the line,” Thibault said.

Rich Text Area.

Download ComplaintVLeMieux

Download Gunster Response

Download LeMieux response

Download Thibault answer

-- Marc Caputo

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:14pm]


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