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State Senate candidate Jim Norman mum on wife's $435,000 house

TAMPA — The financial disclosure form filed by state Senate candidate Jim Norman lists his Carrollwood home and a handful of retirement and savings accounts.

What the form doesn't show is a home in Arkansas owned by his wife and bought in 2006 with $435,000 in cash, as well as two boats parked at the home's dock.

Jim Norman is included on the titles of the two boats. Under state law, that means he must include them on financial disclosure forms if they are worth more than $1,000.

Norman, a Hillsborough County commissioner, said he will amend his report to include the boats if an appraisal determines they meet that reporting threshold. Both boats are at least 19 years old, and his guess is that only one might be worth more than $1,000.

The house, though, does not need to be disclosed because it's in the name of his wife, Mearline Norman.

"It's an investment my wife has. I have gone there, but it's not mine," said Norman, who is facing state Rep. Kevin Ambler in the Republican primary for the District 12 state Senate seat on Aug. 24.

So how did his wife come up with $435,000 to pay for the house? "It came with my wife's investors," he said, though he declined to name them. "I'm not getting into my wife's investment portfolio. That's my wife's interests."

The deed on the home bears only Mearline Norman's name.

Typically, when more than one person invests in real estate, all the individuals are named on the deed or it's put in the hands of a corporation, limited liability company or land trust that everyone has an interest in, said Kris Fernandez, a Tampa real estate attorney.

"That's the only way to protect the interests of everyone," he said. "If the property is put in one person's name, they have the right to sell it, mortgage it, do whatever they want to with it."

In addition, if the individual named on the deed faces bankruptcy or a lien, the investments of the other individuals would be compromised.

And if the person holding the deed dies, the property goes to that person's heirs, Fernandez said.

It does sometimes happen, though, that one name ends up on the deed of real estate with multiple investors, he said.

"It could be lack of sophistication or it could be they're trying to hide the ball and don't want the world to know who the true owners are," he said.

Arkansas state records don't show that Mearline Norman is part of any partnership.

Florida corporate records show she launched a business called Closets 4 All in 1999, but that was dissolved in 2001.

According to Jim Norman's financial disclosures, he earns $95,000 a year in a job at the Salvation Army and $92,000 a year as a county commissioner.

His assets include a home in Carrollwood worth $205,000, retirement accounts valued at about $500,000, and other savings and investments worth about $160,000.

The home his wife owns is in northern Arkansas in a town called Cherokee Village, described on its website as a resort and retirement community with two golf courses, six swimming pools, seven lakes and other amenities.

Norman said he has been to the property with his wife to help her maintain it, but he earns no income from it.

He said questions about the property are a distraction from the real issues facing voters and blamed his Republican opponent from making it a campaign topic.

"There is a lot to debate," Norman said. "But Ambler doesn't appear interested in doing that. We heard this all around Tallahassee that Ambler was going to attack."

Ambler, though, said he didn't know anything about the Arkansas property until it emerged in a news report on WFTS-Ch.28.

"I guess the best way to avoid giving a good answer to the questions that are confronting him is to shift blame to someone else," Ambler said. "This has nothing to do with me."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

State Senate candidate Jim Norman mum on wife's $435,000 house 07/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 6:33pm]
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