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Watchdog files ethics complaint on lobbyist

Published Sep. 29, 2005

A Tallahassee man has filed an ethics complaint alleging that a lobbyist's rental of a home to the head of the state agency that regulates business is unethical.

Eugene Danaher, a Tallahassee retiree, filed the complaint with the state ethics commission, alleging that lawyer Larry Sellers is essentially giving a gift to Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Cynthia Henderson by renting her a two-story, golf course home.

But Henderson said Tuesday that her department's lawyer checked with the ethics commission before she started renting the home from Sellers. She said the commission said the deal would be okay if she paid fair market value for the rental.

Sellers verified that the $1,250 monthly rent Henderson is paying is a fair market value based on similar rentals in the same area, Henderson said.

Henderson also said the rental arrangement does not constitute a conflict of interest because Sellers doesn't represent any clients with business before her department.

"And if Larry came to the department with an issue, I would recuse myself," Henderson said.

Danaher is a frequent government critic who has also targeted then-Gov. Lawton Chiles, then-Secretary of State Sandra Mortham and various local officials with ethics complaints.

"I don't think we should have lobbyists influencing our legislators or governmental departmental heads," Danaher said.

The Florida Commission on Ethics referred the case to the state prosecutor because it is filed against Sellers, who is not an elected official, and the commission doesn't have jurisdiction in such cases, said Bonnie Williams, the commission's executive director.

Sellers' house was for sale when Henderson moved from Tampa to take her job in the Bush administration. She has an option to buy it at the original list price, and may do that when she sells her Tampa home, she said.