Ethics complaint filed against state Senate candidate Jim Norman

TAMPA — A Valrico attorney said Friday he filed a complaint with the Florida Division on Ethics against state Senate candidate Jim Norman.

Paul Phillips' complaint, which might not be investigated until after Tuesday's primary, alleges Norman failed to reveal on financial disclosure forms his ownership of two boats. Norman's name is listed on the title of boats that were part of a $435,000 cash purchase of a lakefront home in Arkansas by Norman's wife, Mearline.

Phillips offered no proof of his claims against Norman. "I have more than a reasonable belief," he said. "If you've got nothing to hide, put it forth."

Norman, a Republican Hillsborough County commissioner for 18 years, has declined to explain how his wife paid for the home, saying only that she has investors.

The complaint filed Thursday also alleges that the money for the house came from Ralph Hughes, the late owner of a Seffner precast concrete company, who benefitted over the years from Norman's pro-development commission votes. Hughes, through his businesses, was a frequent contributor to Norman's campaigns.

After Hughes died in 2008, Norman advocated naming the county's Moral Courage Award in his honor. Hughes' name was removed from the award less than a year later in light of an IRS complaint that said Hughes died owing the government millions.

Norman will face state Rep. Kevin Ambler in the primary to represent District 12 in north Hillsborough and central Pasco. Norman would not comment, but a statement from his campaign called the complaint "gutter politics" by his opponent.

"These outlandish accusations have no merit and it is unfortunate that he has resorted to the desperate tactics," it said.

Ambler could not be reached for comment, but also called Norman desperate in a Facebook post. "My opponent and the shadowy special interest groups that are supporting him are spreading misleading and false statements about my conservative Republican voting record," he wrote.

Phillips' complaint also alleges that Norman is a lobbyist for the Salvation Army but has not registered as required by law. Phillips said he filed the complaint because of cronyism in local political circles. "I'm just tired of it," he added.

Kaye Starling, complaint coordinator for the ethics commission, would not confirm the agency had received the documents. Complaints are confidential until the commission hears them, or the parties agree to make them public. It does not accept complaints against a candidate within five days of an election. It's unclear if Phillips met that deadline. He said if the commission rejects it, he'll file it again.

Times staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Ethics complaint filed against state Senate candidate Jim Norman 08/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 23, 2010 1:55pm]

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