In 2007, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young gave his son's girlfriend a job as an aide in his Seminole office.
It raised few eyebrows then. But now Democrat Charlie Justice is seizing on the hiring to again question the ethics of the entrenched congressman he faces in the Nov. 2 general election.
The aide, case assistant Ashley Young, is now a member of the Young family. She married Billy Young on Oct. 4, 2008.
Federal law bars U.S. officials from employing immediate family. However, members of Congress can continue to employ people if they marry into the family after being hired.
Ashley Young, who earned $41,000 last year, was hired in July 2007.
"This is Bill Young's decision whether he wants to follow the spirit of the law or continue to spend taxpayers' money on family — which is what he does," said Justice, a state senator from St. Petersburg.
The latest attack on Young hit close to home, and he lashed out at Justice for orchestrating the kind of negative attacks that Justice bemoaned in his own 2006 run for Florida Senate.
"I'm expecting his next complaint about Ashley will be that when her twin daughters died in January, she took a week off," Young said, referring to losing his granddaughters shortly after their birth.
The hiring was cleared verbally by the ethics committee office, Young said. Though the congressman said the couple "knew each other," Young said he was unsure if Ashley and Billy Young were dating when she was hired.
A website for their wedding includes a description of how they met, a subsequent date at a June 2006 concert and then a July 4 beach outing a month later.
"Ever since that day we have been inseperable! (sic)" the site says.
Ashley Young, 26, who is listed under her maiden name of Abreu in staff directories, was hired through a connection with a former staffer via the University of South Florida alumni network, Young and chief of staff Harry Glenn said.
That staffer was ill and needed a temporary replacement. Then the woman died suddenly of a brain tumor and Abreu — who had worked for a social service agency the prior year — stayed.
"It became clearer to the congressman and us after a couple months they liked the job she was doing," Glenn said.
Justice said the way Young conducts his office is a legitimate issue that Young is trying to divert attention from.
In 2008, the St. Petersburg Times reported that companies employing Billy Young and a brother had benefited from millions in appropriations earmarked by Young, R-Indian Shores.
This year Young was cleared in a separate investigation into earmarking and lobbyists.
And Justice, a University of South Florida adviser, said in 2009 that he saw no problem in a lawmaker seeking money for the school if the lawmaker won election after being hired, as he was.
Since Young announced in February he would run again, Justice has tried to invigorate a campaign that faces challenges against the 20-term incumbent. Justice largely has attacked Young's ethics. Young has fired back that Justice should be talking about real issues like health care.
Young, who traditionally avoids debating challengers, enjoys a fundraising advantage over Justice. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also hasn't included Justice in its list of top House challengers that already includes two Floridians and two rounds of announcements.
But last month, Young sent a message to supporters saying that while he hadn't advertised on radio and television much in years past, Justice's criticism "will require our response."
"I don't know what there would be to debate," Young told the Times. "As an incumbent state senator, you'd think there'd be an issue to debate."
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779.