Florida senator sued by his family business for ‘embezzling’ money

Sen. Nick DiCeglie disputed many of the allegations, which occurred before he ran for office.
Florida Rep. Nick DiCeglie watches during an Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee hearing in a legislative session, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee.
Florida Rep. Nick DiCeglie watches during an Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee hearing in a legislative session, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published May 22

TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Nick DiCeglie is being sued by his cousins and his family trash collection business for allegedly spending tens of thousands of the Clearwater company’s dollars on political expenses, travel and a personal loan.

In two lawsuits, DiCeglie, a St. Petersburg Republican, is accused of “embezzling” money while he was president of Solar Sanitation.

The most recent lawsuit, filed by Solar earlier this month, accuses DiCeglie of spending $65,000 of the company’s money to “pay vendors associated with DiCeglie’s political career.” That includes paying one consultant $2,500 each month between 2015 and 2018. He also spent more than $15,000 of the company’s money on membership fees, including to the private Governor’s Club in Tallahassee down the street from the Capitol, according to the suit.

The company is seeking to recoup the money. The lawsuits were first reported by the Florida Phoenix.

In legal filings, DiCeglie did not dispute some of the allegations. He has agreed to pay back some of the money, including $120,000 in loans from the company.

But he said the political spending was to further the company’s business, which relies on contracts with local governments in Pinellas County. A $5,000 payment to lobbyist Alan Suskey in 2016, for example, was to lobby the Legislature on an amendment affecting waste hauler displacement provisions, he argued in court.

Much of the spending predates DiCeglie’s political career, which started when he was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2018. He was elected to the Senate last year, replacing Sen. Jeff Brandes, who was forced to step down because of term limits.

DiCeglie referred comment to his lawyer, Richard Salazar, who described the lawsuits as a family dispute.

“Nick and his cousins are going through a business divorce, and like any divorce, each side attempts to gain leverage,” Salazar said in a statement. “This is nothing more than a desperate, last ditch attempt to wound Nick on his way to the negotiating table.”

Solar Sanitation was co-founded by DiCeglie’s father in 1980. DiCeglie inherited a one-third stake in the company about 2008 or 2009, according to court records. His cousins, Anthony Dinardi Jr. and John Dinardi, each have a one-third stake that they inherited from their father. The Dinardis also own and operate a waste-disposal company in New York.

DiCeglie became president of the company in 2011. His cousins “rarely have participated in the management of Solar for the last 25 years,” he wrote in a response to one of the lawsuits.

Although his cousins and the company accuse him of embezzling thousands of dollars, DiCeglie disputed many of the transactions in detail and disputed the premise of the lawsuits — that the money was being spent to help his personal political career.

“The reason Mr. DiCeglie got involved in politics was to benefit Solar,” one of his filings states. Between 2009 and 2013, he fought a Pinellas County commission decision that would have put Solar “out of business,” his lawyers wrote, and he’s been active in politics ever since.

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The cousins accuse him of hiring a $2,500-per-month political consultant from January 2015 to July 2018 “solely for DiCeglie’s personal benefit in connection with his political career as a Florida legislator.”

DiCeglie responded that the consultant helped Solar with “an overall strategy for how to navigate various municipalities in Pinellas County and Pinellas County government.”

The membership at the Governor’s Club prior to his election, DiCeglie wrote, was “to gain access with lobbyists and local elected officials on the status of their waste hauling contracts across the state as well as storm debris business opportunities.”

A $1,500 payment to the St. Petersburg Republican Club was for a sponsorship by Solar for an awards dinner, lawyers wrote. A $669 charge at a downtown Tallahassee hotel in January 2015 was for the governor’s inauguration, when DiCeglie “participated in several meetings with Pinellas County lobbyists to discuss his concerns with the hauler displacement statute,” his lawyers wrote.

DiCeglie agreed with the cousins on some of their allegations. He wrote that he would pay Solar back for any payments made for rent at a Tallahassee home. He would pay back $139.75 for a Maine hotel stay in 2015 and $922.98 for a stay at the Sand Pearl Resort in Clearwater that were unrelated to company business.

He disputed that his actions hurt the company, and instead noted that the company’s revenue increased 33%, or $1.5 million, over the last five years. The company had record revenue of $4.4 million in 2022 and is projected to take in $5.3 million this year.

DiCeglie stepped down from his position in February but still owns a third of the company’s shares, valued at $1.75 million in 2021, according to DiCeglie’s most recent financial disclosure.