Nikki Fried files financial disclosures two months after deadline

Report shows a new mortgage and a continued stake in a powerful cannabis company
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Aug. 31, 2021|Updated Aug. 31, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is worth nearly $1 million and owns a six-figure stake in a powerful cannabis company, according to a financial disclosure she filed Tuesday — two months late.

Fried, the lone statewide elected Democrat and a candidate for governor in next year’s race, filed her financial disclosure the day before she faced fines for missing the deadline. The disclosure form was due July 1.

Fried’s financial records have been scrutinized for months, ever since she quietly submitted an amendment to her 2018 report just days before she announced her campaign for governor in June. The amendment revealed that her income that year from her consulting firm Igniting Florida was $351,480 — five times what she reported earlier.

Her initial report, filed in July of 2019, showed no income from Igniting Florida. In January 2020, she amended her form to say she earned $72,000.

Fried continues to fix errors in her past financial disclosures. In addition to submitting her 2020 report, Fried on Tuesday also amended her 2019 form to change her net worth from $1,460,186 to $1,448,972.

Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Republican Governors Association, said Fried’s inability to accurately track her money demonstrated that she “can’t be trusted to handle the finances of the 15th largest economy in the world as the Florida’s chief executive.”

“She’s an incompetent mess,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

In response, Fried campaign spokesperson Kevin Cate called attention to Republicans’ support for former President Donald Trump, who declined to make his tax returns public as president.

“It must really pain them to see what transparency and humility looks like given their blind faith in an insurrectionist who hid his financials from the public because he wasn’t paying taxes,” Cate said in a statement.

Fried’s campaign did not elaborate on why her report was not filed by the state’s July 1 deadline. Rules set by Florida’s Legislature provide an additional two-month window before officials can face fines — $25 a day — because of any tardiness. The disclosure forms require elected officials to list estimated net worth, assets valued at more than $1,000, liabilities of more than $1,000 and information about income.

Fried’s disclosures also reveal ongoing ties to the Florida medical marijuana industry, which she has promoted as agriculture commissioner and would oversee as governor. Her 2020 form showed that she has about a $130,000 investment in Harvest Health & Recreation, Inc. That company is a licensed medical marijuana treatment center in Florida.

Harvest is also in the process of being acquired by Trulieve, the most powerful player in Florida cannabis. Should regulators approve what was estimated in May to be a $2.1 billion deal, Harvest is set to fold its operations into Trulieve’s. Harvest will auction off its license — likely for tens of millions of dollars. The bidding process for that license has already begun.

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Cate noted that Fried has pledged to sell her stake in Harvest should she be elected governor.

Fried’s net worth decreased about $500,000 from 2019 to 2020, her disclosures reveal. Much of that difference appears to be attributable to Fried taking on a $508,000 mortgage. Late last year, Fried’s fiancé Jake Bergmann transferred ownership of their home to Fried, according to a document published by Florida Politics. Cate referred a question about the mortgage to Fried’s office, which did not immediately respond to an email.

Bergmann is a prominent entrepreneur in the cannabis industry and the former CEO of Surterra Wellness, one of the state’s largest medical marijuana firms. He’s since left that company, though the Orlando Sentinel reported last year that Bergmann’s divorce records show he remains deeply invested in the marijuana industry.

In addition to the mortgage, Fried also reported a loan of $68,415 and an auto loan of $21,351.

Fried initially did not disclose her stake in Harvest, choosing instead to shield her assets in a blind trust when she first ascended to elected office. It was the same disclosure strategy Sen. Rick Scott used as Florida governor to block his massive portfolio of holdings from public scrutiny.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature first passed a law to allow blind trusts in 2011 after Scott took office. Lawmakers then repealed the law in 2019 after Scott had moved onto the Senate and after Fried became Florida’s top elected Democrat. The next year, Fried acknowledged for the first time her investment in Harvest.

Other assets listed in the new report include $222,473 in retirement accounts and $210,682 in checking, savings and health-savings accounts. She listed household goods and personal effects combined at $235,000 in the new report, up from $230,000 a year earlier. Fried also reported receiving $126,814 from her state job in 2020.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.