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Ethics commission finds probable cause against Miami Rep. Erik Fresen

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Ethics Commission announced Wednesday it has found probable cause that state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, failed to properly disclose his annual net worth, assets and liabilities from 2008 to 2011.

Fresen called the allegations "baseless and pointless."

The commission's next step is to determine whether Fresen violated state ethics laws by failing to properly report his income and liabilities on his annual state disclosure forms. That process could take several weeks.

Fresen's finances have been the subject of several reports, including in the Miami Herald, and became an issue in his successful primary campaign against opponent Amory Bodin.

Fresen said Wednesday the charges were filed against him by an aide to Bodin and he considers them "nothing but a textbook political attack" and he expects to fight the charges. He said the probable cause findings "deal with technicalities and not substantive issues."

"I'm confident that it will be dismissed and we will be responding to it as the process dictates,'' Fresen said. "It's baseless and pointless."

Fresen, a land-use consultant, has been dogged by questions about his personal finances since 2008, when a lender filed a foreclosure suit against him, his wife and his mother. He reported a $357,000 net worth in 2011, according to documents posted on the web site of Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based government watchdog group.

Prior to the Republican primary in August, the Herald reported that a mortgage company filed suit against Fresen after he failed to make payments in May 2008.

Fresen says the lender tried to double-bill him for $14,000 in property taxes on the house, taxes he said he paid at closing when he bought the house in 2006. (The home was actually purchased by Fresen's mother, who transferred the deed to Fresen and his wife a month later, records show.) He says the bank sued after he refused to pay the extra amount.

"They would not accept anything but the total amount," said Fresen, who calls the lawsuit a "legal nightmare." Fresen said in court papers that he tried to "cure" the default before the foreclosure suit was filed in 2008.

In 2009, a judge ordered the sale of Fresen's house to pay off a $641,000 judgment, court records show. But in February 2010 — only days before the scheduled sale — the judge rescinded the order because the bank had failed to notify other parties with claims against Fresen and his mother, records show.

No new sale date was ever set, though the foreclosure suit is still pending, court records show.

Fresen said the case has been slowed because the mortgage has been transferred among several banks, but he's confident the case will be settled soon.

"I can more than cover my mortgage," Fresen said. "I'm willing to pay whatever must be paid."

The mortgage, however, does not appear as a debt listed in Fresen's financial disclosure forms filed with the state. A Miami woman has filed an ethics complaint against Fresen saying he failed to disclose both the mortgage and the foreclosure suit, records show.

Fresen said he doesn't believe he's obligated to list the mortgage among his debts because it's effectively suspended — he says he hasn't paid the mortgage company in months. "They're not billing anything," he said.

Property records and court records show that the mortgage on Fresen's home is in his mother's name, not his own. But Fresen says he is responsible for the mortgage, and it appears on his credit report.

Fresen is also facing a $29,199 lien filed by the IRS in May 2011 for taxes owed from 2004 and 2007, records show. Fresen said the 2007 portion of the lien also stems from taxes levied on the money at the heart of the mortgage dispute, and said his accountant is still trying to learn the source of the 2004 tax bill.

In addition, Fresen is trying to remove a $10,000 lien filed on his house by the Miami-Dade Building Department for a code-enforcement violation. The lien was filed over a pool fence erected without obtaining a final permit. Fresen said the contractor was supposed to obtain the final permit and never did; the contractor called the county last week to renew the permit, records show.

Ethics commission finds probable cause against Miami Rep. Erik Fresen 12/05/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 6:19pm]
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