In an unusual move meant to avoid conflicts of interest, state police have handed off their criminal investigation of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer to the Leon County State Attorney’s Office.
Lawyers for Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell will now be the fourth agency to handle the investigation into whether CFO Jimmy Patronis illegally released a woman’s sexual harassment complaint for political reasons.
Campbell said Friday that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently handed off its case to him to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest with the Patronis. As a member of the Cabinet, Patronis is one of four votes to hire the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s boss.
The decision was unusual, Campbell said. While the Florida Department of Law Enforcement often refers completed cases criminal cases to his office with recommended charges, it’s the first time under Campbell’s three years in office the agency has handed him a case like this to investigate.
His office does sometimes conduct investigations, but they do not have anywhere near the resources that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement does, he said.
“For them to say, ‘We’re taking a step back because of a potential conflict,‘ I can’t think of another case where that has happened,” Campbell said.
Campbell did not provide details on the investigation, saying he hadn’t had a chance to review it thoroughly and was “trying to get my mind wrapped around it.”
Campbell’s general counsel and Assistant State Attorney Eddie Evans, who is leading the investigation, said he had not done a thorough review of FDLE’s work, but said that it did not appear to be a completed investigation.
He said FDLE‘s investigation went beyond simply illegally releasing a sexual harassment complaint. ”Knowingly and willingly” releasing one is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
”There are a number of things. At this stage, it’s (the case) covering a lot of fronts, and I’m not wholly comfortable saying it centers just on that,” Evans said. “There was a lot going on, apparently, or a lot of accusations going on.”
He said he didn’t know how long it would take to complete the investigation, but noted it wasn’t on the “front-burner” of cases he‘s currently handling.
The fact that FDLE did not dismiss the case is a sign that investigators have been taking it seriously, however.
On May 10, Patronis sent a sudden news release announcing that the state’s banking commissioner, Ronald Rubin, was suspended over a complaint that he had sexually harassed a woman in his office.
But along with the news release, Patronis also sent out a partly redacted version of the woman’s complaint, even though it was clearly marked “confidential and exempt” under state law. The woman filed the complaint just a few hours earlier, well before it had been investigated.
Under state law, sexual harassment complaints are supposed to be private until they’ve been investigated.
In July, the woman’s lawyer wrote a complaint to Attorney General Ashley Moody that Patronis released a “poorly redacted” version of her complaint within hours. Moody’s office said it wasn’t something they could investigate and referred it to the Office of Financial Regulation’s inspector general.
Then, Patronis’ inspector general wrote in July that he was referring the case to FDLE to ensure an “independent and fair review.”
Both Rubin and the woman’s lawyer suspect Patronis released the complaint for political purposes, to pressure Rubin to resign.
For one, the year before, Patronis’ staff also circulated a sexual harassment case to reporters in an apparent effort to get Rubin’s predecessor, Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear, to resign.
Breakspear resigned days later and has since said Patronis applied pressure on him and his office to drop a probe into a Patronis donor.
Rubin, who was fired by Patronis and the Cabinet months after the complaint was made, has also accused Patronis of playing politics with the normally staid office, which regulates banks and check-cashing stores. He said Patronis wanted him gone because he wouldn’t hire and fire the people Patronis wanted him to.
Rubin has also produced text messages and other documents that he said indicated that Patronis or someone on his staff was leaking details about the woman’s complaint before she filed it.
A lobbyist with close ties to the CFO‘s chief of staff had knowledge that the woman had reported Rubin to his supervisor more than a week before she filed a formal complaint.
Rubin produced text messages and emails from the lobbyist, Paul Mitchell, from May 2 — eight days before the woman filed her complaint — informing Rubin that a complaint had been filed against him and that he should resign.
Patronis’ office has not produced any meaningful public records regarding the hiring and firing of Rubin or his correspondence with the lobbyist.
Patronis has defended his release of the sexual harassment complaint, citing a convoluted memo from his then-general counsel claiming that sexual harassment complaints are public record.
Other agencies have not responded similarly, and in one of the only cases of criminal charges being brought for improperly releasing records, an Okaloosa County School District spokesman was charged after releasing a complaint against a school employee to a reporter.
Neither FDLE nor Patronis’ spokespeople immediately returned requests for comment for this story.