Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

‘Pay to play — or else:’ Florida’s banking regulator alleges CFO corruption

A lawsuit raises questions about inappropriate lobbyist influence in CFO Jimmy Patronis’ office.
Public Service Commissioner, Jimmy Patronis questions a petitioner during a meeting, Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Tallahassee, Fla. (Tampa Bay Times Photo/Steve Cannon)
Published Jun. 26
Updated Jun. 26

Ronald Rubin, Florida’s banking regulator, has been suspended for weeks over allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women.

But in an explosive lawsuit, he’s alleging inappropriate — and illegal — behavior by the man who was key in getting him the job: Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

The lawsuit tries to deflect blame for the accusations against Rubin, who was named commissioner of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation in February. The office regulates banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan shops.

Within weeks, a woman in his office complained she had to hide from him at work after he invited her to lunch, then twice took her up to his condo to check out renovations while offering her use of his Washington D.C. condo.

Rubin, who has described that allegation as a misunderstanding, claims that that case and others were ginned up by Patronis after Rubin didn’t hire a lobbyist’s friend.

But although his lawsuit doesn’t address Rubin’s own behavior, it raises uncomfortable questions about how much influence lobbyists have in Patronis’ office.

The lawsuit, which often reads more like a press release than a legal filing, accuses Patronis of running a criminal enterprise.

“The enterprise applies a 'Pay to Play – Or Else’ system of blackmail and intimidation to extract illegal campaign contributions, install loyalist patrons and eliminate ‘outsiders’ who might expose their unlawful activities,” it states.

The lawsuit lays out several accusations:

  1. Rubin got the job with the help of a lobbyist, Paul Mitchell, who lobbied Patronis’ chief of staff to pick Rubin. Patronis, whose office led the search for the bank regulator job, then told his fellow Cabinet members that Rubin was the only finalist worth considering.
  2. After Rubin was hired, one of Mitchell’s clients, MCNA Dental founder Jeffrey Feingold, asked Rubin’s father to thank Patronis by donating to him.
  3. Patronis’ chief of staff and Mitchell then asked Rubin to hire the wife of one of Mitchell’s friends. Her interview went badly, and she later ended up joining other women in filing a complaint against Rubin.

Many of the facts are not in dispute, however. Patronis’ office has said that his chief of staff did discuss hiring Mitchell’s friend for the job.

But Patronis has declined answering questions about the behavior of his chief of staff, including why he or his office was meddling in the hires at another state agency.

“There’s been no meddling,” Patronis told the Times/Herald last week, before the lawsuit was filed. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Patronis’ spokeswoman said Tuesday that nobody in Patronis’ office pressured Rubin to hire anyone. She declined to answer other questions raised in the lawsuit.

“On advice of counsel, we do not comment on pending litigation,” she said.

The lawsuit is only against the lobbyist, Mitchell — not Patronis, his chief of staff, or anyone else mentioned in the complaint.

Rubin’s lawsuit also cites text messages from Mitchell to Rubin — and Feingold to Rubin’s father — describing their influence within Patronis’ office.

The day Rubin was hired, Mitchell apparently texted Rubin, “You should call dr feingold and thank him for his help. Or maybe even better, your dad could. :-)”

Feingold also allegedly asked Rubin’s father, wealthy developer Walter Rubin, to make a $1 million contribution “as payback for Patronis’ supporting Rubin’s nomination," the lawsuit states.

Rubin’s father did not make the contribution.

Mitchell was apparently tipped off to the employee’s complaint about Rubin days before it was made public, which would violate Florida law.

On May 2, Mitchell apparently texted Rubin, “We have to talk. Not good." On the call, Mitchell was aware that a woman had complained about Rubin’s behavior during the lunch, according to the lawsuit.

Eight days later, Patronis’ office posted that woman’s complaint online and announced that Rubin was suspended.

On Tuesday, Rubin’s lawyer asked Attorney General Ashley Moody to open a criminal investigation into why Patronis posted the employee complaint online in the first place.

Employee complaints are “confidential and exempt” under state law until they’ve been finished. Patronis’ inspector general is still investigating the complaints against Rubin. Rubin’s lawyer has asked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inspector general to take over, something DeSantis’ spokeswoman said the office is reviewing.

A spokeswoman for Moody said the attorney general would review the results of the current investigation, “which addresses all relevant allegations.”

Mitchell declined to comment. The general counsel for MCNA Dental said Feingold would comment in the very near future.

Times/Herald staff writer Samantha J. Gross and information from the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel appears before the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    After an emotional four hours of debate, the same Senate that 20 months ago rejected calls for an assault weapons ban after the Parkland shooting, voted 25-15 largely along party lines to remove Scott...
  2. From left to right: Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party; Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Steve Contorno; and State Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, chair of the Republican Party of Florida. Times Files
    Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters and Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo will join Times Political Editor Steve Contorno for a Nov. 6 event.
  3. Lev Parnas, center, leaves federal court following his arraignment, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in New York. Parnas and Igor Fruman are charged with conspiracy to make illegal contributions to political committees supporting President Donald Trump and other Republicans. Prosecutors say the pair wanted to use the donations to lobby U.S. politicians to oust the country's ambassador to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP
    Appearing with their attorneys, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman said they will fight allegations in a grand jury indictment that they used a shell company to secretly steer hundreds of thousands of dollars...
  4. -
    A report presented to the Senate panel showed a variety of causes of deaths, including inmate-on-inmate assaults and suicides.
  5. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attends an executive session of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    The senator drew backlash for the claim on ABC’s “The View.”
  6. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Kuehne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The vote is expected to be seen as a political victory for the governor and validation for the families of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
  7. Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion.
    The legislation would enact a consent requirement for minors.
  8. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Times
    He could use his position on the Board of Clemency to allow nonviolent felons to serve on juries and run for office.
  9. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
  10. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, thanks supporters including Ukrainian businessman Lev Parnas, left, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    This new fact indicates an attempt to directly influence DeSantis’ early policy agenda as he took office, one that DeSantis said was unsuccessful.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement