Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

In nasty east Hillsborough race, now both Lee and Burgin face ethics complaints

TAMPA — The slugfest for an eastern Hillsborough County state Senate seat took another turn Monday when two people filed an ethics complaint against candidate Tom Lee, just a week away from the primary election.

Now both Republicans in the Aug. 14 primary for Senate District 24 — Lee and rival Rachel Burgin — face complaints filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Burgin was hit with one last month.

A Valrico lawyer accused her of directing donations to a political committee responsible for an attack mailer aimed at Lee. Burgin denied the allegations.

In the latest ethics case, two women accuse Lee of undervaluing his real estate holdings on the financial disclosure form he filed for this election.

The women provided the Tampa Bay Times a copy of the complaint, but with their names removed.

Elizabeth Morowati of Carrollwood, whose address remained visible on the documents, later confirmed she was one of the two complainants.

The complaint questions why BTL Ventures LLC, a Florida company that lists Lee as a manager, is not included on Lee's financial disclosure forms. BTL's property in Hillsborough, 12 acres valued at roughly $458,250, is not listed, either.

Lee, a home builder and former Senate president, said Monday that there is an easy explanation: He has no financial stake in the company.

He said BTL is a family real estate company in which he has no ownership. He said he has helped out on some projects, but received no income.

"It's just a grotesque leap of logic," he said of the complaint. "Everything on my financial disclosure form has been accurately reported."

The complaint also questions why Lee did not specifically list several other parcels that are in his name. Lee said that land is included in property that is disclosed on his form.

Neither Morowati nor the other woman who filed the complaint live in the district. The other woman refused to give her name, and the ethics commission will not provide copies of complaints during its inquiry.

Both women say they have no ties to the Burgin campaign, or any third-party group gunning for Lee, but are merely targeting so-called "establishment" candidates. Lee has won endorsements from a number of political leaders.

"When we see something is not right, we just document it. We don't care who it is," said Morowati, a 65-year-old registered Republican who has been involved in the tea party-supported 9-12 Project.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.

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