Aide to Jim Norman gets house arrest, probation for failure to file tax return

Sen. Norman's staffer also gets 3 months of house arrest for tax evasion.
Published September 6 2012
Updated September 7 2012

TAMPA — An aide to state Sen. Jim Norman was sentenced Thursday to three months of house arrest and four years of probation for failing to file and pay his taxes.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun III also ordered the aide, Benjamin Kelly, 55, to pay $28,527 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service at the rate of $400 a month. The judge said that figure can be modified depending on Kelly's financial circumstances.

With Norman not running for re-election, Kelly will soon be out of a job.

Kelly apologized to Norman, who did not attend the hearing, and his family for difficulties he caused them by not filing five years of taxes between 2006 and 2010.

Kelly pleaded guilty in May to one misdemeanor charge of failing to file a return. In a plea agreement, prosecutors dropped four other misdemeanor charges.

McCoun could have sentenced Kelly to up to one year in prison.

"While I am pleased to get this behind me, I find it embarrassing and disgusting having been in this situation to begin with," Kelly told the judge. "I promise I will not be in this position again."

U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill's office discovered Kelly's failure to file tax returns as it investigated Norman and Norman's wife for her acquisition of a lakefront Arkansas home with money from one of Norman's political benefactors. The inquiry ended without any charges against Norman.

Kelly was Norman's aide for much of his 18-year tenure as a Hillsborough County commissioner, which ended in 2010. Kelly followed Norman to the state Senate, to which he was elected the same year.

Kelly's indictment was unsealed the same day in February that Norman was named chairman of the Senate's finance and tax committee.

The indictment said Kelly made from $76,738 to $108,037 annually during the five years covered in the complaint, but failed to file a tax return during any of them.

The figures appear to capture not only Kelly's pay as a commission aide, which topped out at $73,049 in 2009, but also money he received while working on Norman's campaigns for public office and possibly other pay.

Todd Foster, Kelly's attorney, told the court Kelly had no prior criminal history and the consequences of his being charged may make it difficult for him to find a new political job.

"It's just a very stupid act by him for which he's being held accountable," Foster said.

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.