TALLAHASSEE — Records show that Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis made multiple phone calls to a high-powered Tallahassee lobbyist on the day he illegally released a woman’s sexual harassment complaint, raising fresh questions about last year’s ouster of the state’s banking regulator.
Patronis faces a criminal investigation by the Leon County State Attorney’s Office for disclosing the sexual harassment complaint against the regulator, Ronald Rubin. An ethics complaint has also been filed against Patronis, one of the state’s highest-ranking elected officials, for disclosing another complaint.
Rubin sued Patronis last year, accusing him and lobbyist Paul Mitchell, who represents financial companies that work with Patronis’ office, of fabricating the woman’s complaint against him.
Phone records, revealed in Rubin’s lawsuit this week, show that Mitchell and Patronis were in close contact before the complaint against Rubin was made public.
The records show that on May 10 last year, Patronis and Mitchell each made two phone calls to each other. Their last call ended 19 minutes before Patronis announced Rubin was being suspended over a complaint of sexual harassment.
When Patronis announced the suspension in an 8 p.m. news release, he also included a redacted version of the woman’s complaint, even though the complaint was marked “confidential and exempt” under state law. Releasing a complaint before it’s been investigated is a first-degree misdemeanor under state law, punishable by up to a year in jail.
In making his case that Mitchell and Patronis coordinated his ouster, Rubin noted that Mitchell texted him about the sexual harassment complaint days before Patronis released it publicly. Rubin claimed Mitchell knew that the woman and another employee were going to make a complaint against him.
State law prohibits state employees from sharing personal identifying information about sexual harassment victims.
Patronis has never directly answered whether he discussed the woman’s complaint with Mitchell. When asked again on Thursday, Patronis spokesman Devin Galetta declined to answer.
Galetta instead referred to a news release Patronis issued earlier this month about a bill Patronis is advancing in the Legislature this year that would impose criminal penalties for state employees who reveal details about sexual harassment victims, which is apparently what Patronis did last year.
“Florida’s whistleblower law should be tough, or as tough, as those on the federal level for employees and applicants, so we don’t have victims of sexual harassment being contacted and threatened, making them feel like a criminal as they try to protect their own rights,” Patronis said in the news release.
Patronis’ actions in sexual harassment cases have prompted at least one woman to resign, however.
When Patronis tried to force out Rubin’s predecessor, Drew Breakspear, in 2018, his staff shopped around a sexual harassment case to pressure Breakspear to resign.
The action prompted the woman to resign, according to attorney Tiffany Cruz, who represents that woman and the woman who filed the complaint against Rubin.
“She made her complaint and thought it would stay confidential, which it’s supposed to,” attorney Tiffany Cruz said last year. “And it did, until it was politically convenient for a politician to release it.”
Attorneys for Rubin and Mitchell declined to comment.
Rubin and Breakspear were both commissioners of the Office of Financial Regulation, which regulates banks and payday loan stores.
The normally staid office is regarded to be apolitical, but both Rubin and Breakspear have accused Patronis of playing politics with the office, telling them who to hire and fire, and in Breakspear’s case, pressuring the office to drop its involvement in a case against a major Patronis political donor.
Their successor, who was hired in December, still has not started the job.