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Florida’s bank regulator scandal comes to a head this week. Here are 5 big questions about it.

The Cabinet meeting to discuss harassment allegations against the Office of Financial Regulation commissioner is Thursday.
Florida Cabinet meets in Jerusalem. Left to right: Attorney General Ashley Moody, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried. [Florida Channel]
Florida Cabinet meets in Jerusalem. Left to right: Attorney General Ashley Moody, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried. [Florida Channel]
Published Jul. 22, 2019
Updated Jul. 22, 2019

The long-running saga over Florida’s top banking regulator appears to be coming to a head this week.

Suspended for the past two months on a sexual harassment allegation, Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin is likely facing his last days on the job.

An inspector general report released last week said Rubin made several people uncomfortable with his language and behavior, and the governor added an agenda item to Thursday’s Cabinet meeting to address it.

The drama over Rubin's suspension has been one of the biggest stories in Tallahassee this summer.

Rubin, the top pick of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, was hired by the Cabinet in February to lead the agency that regulates banks, payday loan stores and check-cashing operations.

Since then, Rubin has spent about half the time suspended, while still collecting his $166,000 salary. Patronis has been dragged into the scandal, too, accused by Rubin of cooking up the sexual harassment case against him because Rubin wouldn’t help out the friend of a lobbyist.

It’s been a lot to unpack.

Here are five big questions we have about Thursday’s meeting:

1. Will Rubin speak at the Cabinet meeting?

It doesn’t look like it.

Rubin’s lawyer, Michael Tein, said last week that he won’t be there. But Tein will be.

“I plan to be there, and I’m going to be asking for the opportunity to speak briefly,” Tein said.

2. Is the Cabinet actually going to fire Rubin?

Most likely.

But the governor and the Cabinet have been bizarrely quiet on what to expect Thursday.

The agenda for the meeting was changed at the last minute last week to include a vague item — “Inspector general report - Ronald Rubin.”

But does that mean they’ll fire him? Replace him? We don’t know.

3. Who would replace Rubin?

That’s unclear.

State law has strict requirements on who can lead the Office of Financial Regulation.

Under the law, the person must have worked at least 5 of the last 10 years in the field. That appears to rule out the next highest-ranking person in the office: Rubin’s chief of staff, Abigail Vail.

So it looks like the Cabinet would have to open up yet another search for a top banking regulator.

It would be their third search in about a year.

4. When will Patronis’ office start releasing records on Rubin?

Before he advocated for Rubin to get the job, Patronis’ office said they did “extensive research and background checks” on him.

Did they? Patronis has yet to release them, and other Cabinet members said they didn’t see the results of those background checks, either.

The Times/Herald asked for the results of those background checks back in May, after Patronis suspended Rubin.

We haven’t gotten those background check results yet — or any of the other records requested from Patronis’ office dealing with this topic over the last three months.

Why does it matter? Rubin hadn’t had a full-time job in the preceding four years before he was hired, and a Bloomberg Law report said he resigned from his last job after facing a sexual harassment complaint.

5. Who will investigate other alleged improprieties in Patronis’ office?

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is already reviewing whether Patronis or someone in his office illegally released a woman’s sexual harassment complaint for political purposes.

But there are other allegations besides that. Both Rubin and his predecessor, Drew Breakspear, have accused Patronis of pressuring them to do favors for Patronis’ friends and donors. Another top employee told Politico similar things last week.

Rubin has accused Patronis of “pay for play” within the office, and he says he has text messages and other records to back it up.

Those on-the-record admissions are extraordinarily rare in Tallahassee, where officials are expected to be good corporate soldiers and leave quietly.

But will anyone else look into it?

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