TALLAHASSEE — The state Ethics Commission delivered an unexpected blow to state Rep. Erik Fresen on Friday, rejecting an agreement that he had reached with state Advocate Diane Guillemette over his flawed financial disclosures.
In the agreement, Fresen, a Miami Republican, conceded that there were minor mistakes on the disclosure forms he filed between 2008 and 2011. He said he had since corrected the errors.
But the commission was hung up on an unpaid ethics fine. The $1,500 penalty was assessed in 2003 because Fresen did not file a financial disclosure while serving as legislative aide the year before.
Commissioners said it was "horrific" that Fresen had not paid the fine, and called the case among the worst they had ever seen. One commissioner likened the circumstances to a bank robbery.
"Can we do a public censure?" asked Commissioner Linda Robison. "I find this appalling and I think his constituents need to know he never paid a fine that was assessed."
Fresen's attorney, J.C. Planas, said Fresen was not made aware of the $1,500 fine until 2012. By that time, the penalty was no longer enforceable.
Planas said Fresen would not pay the fine because it had been unfairly imposed.
"In 2003, when he was not in office — when he was not a legislative aide and his primary responsibility was trying to take care of his wife and children — he did not file a financial disclosure form for his time as a legislative aide," Planas said. "You are trying to go after him for something that happened when he lost his job as a legislative aide."
Planas also noted that other former legislative aides had not been held accountable for the lapse.
Commissioner Matthew Carlucci was not convinced. Carlucci chastised Fresen for failing to attend the meeting, and said the state representative should have been more contrite.
"Contriteness goes a long way with me," Carlucci said. "I make my fair share of mistakes… I find that when I do, and I'm contrite and I own up to it, I usually get off."
Commissioner Tom Freeman, however, said Carlucci "beat up" on the state representative. He urged his colleagues to approve the agreement Fresen reached with the advocate.
"The only good that can come from his issue beyond this date today is to accept the stipulation, put it behind us, and move forward," Freeman said.
The commission rejected the stipulation in a 7-1 vote.
Planas said he was disappointed in the outcome. He said he and Guillemette would craft a revised stipulation acknowledging that Fresen declined to pay the fee, and submit it to the commission.
The case could also go to the Division of Administrative Hearings.
After the hearing, Fresen reiterated his position there had been "no purposeful or material omission of assets or liabilities" in his financial disclosures.
"The commission seems to be hung up on a fine that is over 10 years old..." he said. "It seems like a willful grabbing at straws that have no relevance."
Fresen is running for re-election in 2014 against Democrat Daisy Baez and Republican Amory Bodin.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected]