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  1. Florida Politics

Rep. Darryl Rouson failed to pay taxes on Tallahassee townhouse

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, denies he’s in financial straits, though he has lost his main source of income.
Published Jun. 5, 2013

In 2010, state Rep. Darryl Rouson bought a townhouse in Tallahassee.

Since then, he has missed three years of property tax payments, falling so far behind that the unit soon could be put up for auction.

That's not all. Last fall, Rouson borrowed $20,000 from a relative using his already heavily mortgaged St. Petersburg home as security.

And this spring, Rouson parted ways with the Tampa law firm of Morgan & Morgan, which had been paying him as much as $565,000 annually.

Is Rouson, the future House Democratic leader, in financial straits again?

"No, other than someone who just loses their main source of income in the last couple of weeks,'' Rouson, 58, said Tuesday.

A hard-charging lawyer who said he was once addicted to crack cocaine, Rouson declared bankruptcy in 2002 while owing $360,000 to the IRS. He was still in bankruptcy proceedings when he and his wife, Angela, borrowed money to build a two-story, 4,400-square-foot home that they later refinanced for more than $550,000.

Three years ago, the Rousons bought the Tallahassee townhouse for $90,000 from former state Rep. Ken Sorensen of Key Largo. (Sorensen's name was still on the mailbox Tuesday.) Through a family trust, Sorensen took back a balloon mortgage with the Rousons agreeing to pay $750 a month until the balance, $75,437, came due last July.

But two weeks before the Rousons were to make their final payment, Sorensen died at 77. Public records do not show a satisfaction of mortgage, which lenders typically file when a loan has been paid in full.

Did Rouson make the balloon payment?

"We're working with him,'' Sorensen's daughter, Susan Sallet, said this week. She declined to comment further.

When asked whether he has been paying the mortgage, Rouson did not answer directly but said: "I've been on the phone as we speak to resolve the situation.''

Under terms of the mortgage, the Rousons were required to pay the property taxes on the townhouse, but they failed to do so in 2010, 2011 and 2012. As of this week, they owed $5,604.

Florida law says real property becomes eligible for a so-called "tax deed sale'' when the taxes are more than two years past due. The highest bidder can take title to the property after paying the delinquent taxes.

Rouson, who once served on a state tax commission, has been sent repeated warning letters from the Leon County tax collector but missed the most recent deadline, April 24, to pay up. Preparations are under way for a tax deed sale later this year, but Rouson or the mortgage holder could pay the delinquent taxes plus interest right up until auction time.

Rouson said "it was just an oversight'' that the taxes hadn't been paid in three years.

"Obviously I don't live there full time and I have someone who gets the mail,'' he said. "That's no huge excuse, please forgive me, I'll immediately take care of it.''

Rouson did not disclose either the townhouse or the mortgage on his 2010 financial disclosure statement despite a requirement that Florida lawmakers annually report assets and liabilities exceeding $1,000. He listed the townhouse on his 2011 statement, the most recent one filed, but not the mortgage.

Penalties for nondisclosure could include reprimand, removal from office and, most commonly, civil fines up to $10,000.

"It was an oversight,'' he said. "Nobody's trying to get over on somebody.''

As of December 2011, Rouson reported a net worth of $50,000. His main asset was his St. Petersburg home, valued at $470,000, while his liabilities were loans totaling $692,000. That did not include the $81,000 mortgage on the townhouse.

According to Pinellas County records, Rouson used his main residence as security in October when he borrowed $20,000 from a brother who lives in California.

Why did he borrow the money? "To buy you a birthday present,'' Rouson told a reporter.

A former president of the NAACP in St. Petersburg, Rouson won election to the House in 2008 after switching parties from Republican to Democrat. He joined the law firm of John Morgan, a major Democratic fundraiser, and made $565,000 in 2010 and $420,500 in 2011, records show.

But Rouson, who passed a bill this year to crack down on the sale of pot pipes, opposed his boss' support of a drive to legalize medical marijuana.

"He' a great lawyer, but right now this isn't the right fit,'' Morgan told the Times/Herald last month, confirming Rouson was leaving the firm.

Rouson was narrowly elected House Democratic leader for the 2015-16 legislative term by his peers, besting Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, 23-21. On Tuesday, the Times-Union of Jacksonville reported that Democrats were considering new rules to clarify who would become leader in the event of a vacancy.

Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at susan@tampabay.com.

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