Gov. Rick Scott abruptly called off a South Florida fundraiser planned for today at the Boca Raton home of real estate developer James Batmasian, a felon who did time for federal tax evasion.
Batmasian pleaded guilty in 2008 to a felony charge of failing to pay the government $253,513 in federal taxes for employees at his company, Investments Limited. He was sentenced to eight months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, which is similar to probation.
The Florida Supreme Court then suspended his license to practice law. His law license was still suspended as of Thursday, making him ineligible to practice in Florida. The Florida Bar said Thursday that Batmasian hadn't applied for reinstatement.
Though he's a felon, Batmasian, 67, is still a registered voter. After an inquiry about his status, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said she'd report it to the state to begin the process of removing him from the voter rolls.
Florida prohibits felons from voting unless their rights are restored. Batmasian hasn't voted since the March 2008 Boca Raton city election — five weeks before his guilty plea.
The Florida Democratic Party jumped at the chance to embarrass the Republican governor by using Batmasian as an excuse to bring up Scott's background at HCA/Columbia, the hospital company he founded. Scott was ousted in 1997 amid a Medicare fraud investigation that resulted in $1.7 billion in fines.
Scott left the company with $10 million in severance and $300 million in stock.
"Two famous Florida fraudsters will link arms to collect campaign cash. Rick Scott and his wealthy contributors are spending the evening with Jim Batmasian, a tax-evading South Florida tycoon who — unlike Rick Scott — couldn't dodge a felony and served time federal prison," Democratic Party communications director Joshua Karp wrote in an email to reporters.
The fundraiser was first reported by the website of the liberal magazine Mother Jones, which said the price of the event was $10,000 per person. The Democratic Party circulated the Mother Jones article Thursday. Less than three hours later the Scott campaign canceled the event.
Scott spokesman Greg Blair used the opportunity to take a shot at Charlie Crist, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor. "This event has been canceled. All the name calling and mudslinging in the world can't hide Charlie Crist's record of failure or the fact that he is too scared to debate his primary opponent," Blair said by email.
The co-host was to be Ned Siegel, who was U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas at the end of George W. Bush's presidency. Siegel is a prominent Boca Raton developer, political donor and major player in the Republican Jewish Coalition.