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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Jim Norman settles ethics complaint, admits guilt



 Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, has decided not to fight ethics allegations that he failed to disclose a $500,000 gift to his wife from a prominent Hillsborough County businessman, instead settling the case by signing an admission of guilt.

Earlier this month a state ethics panel found probable cause to show Norman should have disclosed the investment, used to buy a house in Arkansas, when he ran for Senate, and failed to do so. The commission dismissed three other complaints that alleged that the gift created a conflict of interest.

Ralph Hughes, former owner of a construction supply company named Caste-Crete , gave the money to Mearline Norman when her husband was a county commissioner in 2006. Norman said they didn't let him in on any of the details. Hughes has since died.

The gift was the subject of a U.S. Attorney's Office criminal investigation, which eventually found no wrongdoing.

Norman's lawyer, Mark Levine, said he wanted to fight the ethics accusations in trial. Levine says elected officials only need to report gifts to a spouse or relative under state law if they come from a lobbyist, which Hughes was not.

"I said, look, Jim, I can win this," Levine said. But Norman didn't want to. 

He's been fighting the accusations for more than a year now and is ready to put it behind him, Levine said. 

"Jim has been working so hard up here for the Tampa Bay area. And he's been so distracted by this constant, constant stuff that keeps coming at him about this Hughes deal with his wife. It would be six or eight or ten months before it's resolved," Levine said. "He said, 'I don't want to do all that.' 

[Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 2:11pm]


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