TAMPA — Shea Hughes, whose father loaned politician Jim Norman's wife $500,000, testified this week before a federal grand jury and insisted the transaction was not an act of corruption.
Hughes, 49, confirmed Thursday that a government lawyer questioned him for about 15 minutes about the deal involving Ralph Hughes and Norman, who was a Hillsborough County commissioner at the time and is now a state senator.
"They asked me if I knew anything about the note," Hughes said, referring to a document uncovered after his father's death in 2008. "It was a loan to Mearline Norman. It was a note payable to the trust, to the estate of my family."
The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment.
During an election challenge in the fall, Norman and his wife Mearline testified that Hughes had invested $500,000 to help Mearline buy a waterfront house in Arkansas in 2006.
A longtime friend of the Normans', Hughes also was chairman of a building materials company that benefited from the commission's progrowth policies, particularly during the housing boom.
The couple denied Norman was involved in the Arkansas deal, even though Norman acknowledged he rode with his wife to Arkansas when she closed on the house. Norman was briefly disqualified from running for the state Senate because of the matter.
Shea Hughes said he told the prosecutor that although his father loaned Mearline the money, he did not believe there was anything corrupt about the transaction.
"Anything my dad did politically was for the benefit of everybody in Hillsborough County and the surrounding counties," he said. "He was all about better government and lower tax rates. That was his passion. … There would be no favor to be gained."
Shea Hughes said his 80-year-old mother, Betty, has not been called to testify, and he does not think she will be.
"They asked me if I thought she was on the same page as I was, and I believe that she is," Hughes said.
Hughes said he also told the prosecutor that Norman and his father were close friends with similar ideologies about business and government.
"My father was his mentor," he said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 624-2739.