Rick Scott suspends Hernando official facing prostitution charges

Published April 26 2018
Updated April 27 2018

BROOKSVILLE — Gov. Rick Scott suspended Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson from his position on Thursday, a week after the 71-year-old commissioner was arrested on prostitution-related charges.

Nicholson was arrested April 19 on charges of operating a location for the purpose of lewdness, assignation or prostitution and two counts of purchasing services from a person engaged in prostitution, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando County commissioner arrested on prostitution charges

The county commission met Tuesday, stripped Nicholson of his vice-chairmanship and agreed to send a letter to the governor asking him to suspend the commissioner. They also said Nicholson should resign or retire to allow the county to move forward.

Then on Wednesday, Nicholson himself wrote to the governor, asking Scott to suspend him effective July 17, the day after which it would be too late to put his seat on the ballot this year. In his letter, the commissioner said he had been involved "in circumstances that have unduly caused embarrassment to my loved ones, my friends and colleagues and my community.

"In addition, I also feel you should know that I have already started serious counseling and am currently under the care of a doctor,’’ Nicholson wrote.

Instead, the governor immediately suspended him.

"The charges against Mr. Nicholson are disturbing and unbecoming of someone who is supposed to serve the citizens of Hernando County," said the governor’s deputy communications director, Mara Gambineri, in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.

Florida law allows the governor to issue an executive order suspending an elected official for several reasons such as malfeasance, misfeasance, drunkenness and incompetence.

The suspension means the end of Nicholson’s salary and benefits as a commissioner. County officials are also working to retrieve his official laptop.

It also means the governor can appoint a new commissioner to finish out Nicholson’s term, which ends in 2020, said Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson.

Nicholson, who has not returned repeated requests for comment, has not indicated whether he would just resign before July 17 and let someone else run for the seat.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Woman says Hernando County commissioner kept her as a ‘sex slave’

The charges against Nicholson stem from a February incident when deputies were called to his Spring Hill home after a couple living with him got into a dispute. Kendel Surette, 33, told deputies that Nicholson housed and fed the couple, who had been there about six months, in exchange for letting Nicholson pay to have sexual relations with his 30-year-old wife on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the report said.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or 352-848-1434.