DeSantis pledges closer look at bank regulator accused of sexual harassment

Meanwhile, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said his office will release the regulator’s pre-hire background checks “soon.”
SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis answers reporters questions after the 60 day legislative session ended, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Florida Governor Ron DeSantis answers reporters questions after the 60 day legislative session ended, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Published Jun. 4, 2019|Updated Jun. 4, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet will “definitely” get involved in the investigation of the state’s top banking regulator, who’s been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior only weeks after he started the job.

Ronald Rubin, commissioner of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation since being confirmed by the Cabinet in January, said last week he will not resign. He wrote in an 11-page memo that the allegations are a smear because he declined to hire a friend of a Tallahassee lobbyist.

But DeSantis pledged Tuesday to personally look at a preliminary inspector general’s report, ratcheting up the pressure on Rubin, who heads a normally obscure office overseeing banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan shops.

“I look forward to getting that report and obviously, if action needs to be taken, we’ll take it swiftly,” DeSantis told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s best for us to get the facts.”

READ MORE: Florida’s top banking regulator refuses to resign over allegations

That likely means that Rubin will come before the Florida Cabinet to discuss the pending investigation, something Rubin has said he wants to do to so he can defend himself. In addition to the governor, the Cabinet is made up of Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki" Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Patronis had previously made a written endorsement of Rubin to help him get the position. In response to questions Tuesday about why he made that endorsement, Patronis reiterated that Rubin had the right “credentials" which were “fitting for the job.”

Rubin had not had a job in the four years leading up to his appointment to the Office of Financial Regulation. He had also been fired from his last job, as an adviser to the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, over allegations of sexual harassment, according to a recent report by Bloomberg Law.

“There was 10 different areas of scrutiny that we went and searched,” Patronis said. “Criminal activity ... all that was dealt with and cleared in addition to fingerprinting. ... We even did social media background checks.”

Patronis’ office has not yet released the pre-hire background checks to the public, but said that would happen “soon.”

Since the allegations of harassment have surfaced from multiple women, Patronis has called for Rubin’s resignation. Tuesday, he called the workplace environment described by the accusers “unacceptable," and promised an “exhaustive, nationwide search for his replacement.”

That would be the third search for a candidate for this job in the past year.

READ MORE: Florida’s chief financial officer was top advocate for bank regulator accused of harassment

In his memo, Rubin accused Patronis’ chief of staff, Ryan West, and Tallahassee lobbyist Paul Mitchell of orchestrating the sexual harassment allegations. Mitchell represents several financial companies that do business with the office.

Rubin wrote that nine days before he was hired, West told him that Patronis was going to push for him to get the job. West then asked if Rubin would fire the office’s general counsel and then hire a replacement of West’s choosing.

That replacement, according to Rubin, was Kimberly Grippa, a lawyer who is the ex-wife of former Leon County Commissioner Tony Grippa, and one of the women who filed a complaint against Rubin.

Rubin also did not dispute many of the assertions in the complaints, including that he invited a woman up to his downtown Tallahassee condo to see renovations being done, and that he mentioned his parents’ sex life while at lunch with her.

That woman later claimed that those interactions and others made her feel so uncomfortable that she had to hide from Rubin in the office.

Times/Herald staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.