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  1. Florida Politics

Ethics fines increasing for Florida officials who don't disclose personal finances

TALLAHASSEE — More than 200 public officials and government workers haven't disclosed personal financial information with the state two months after the deadline required by law.

Now, they're racking up fines to the tune of $25 per day. On the list are House and Senate staffers, plus one state lawmaker: Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, who says he mailed the financial disclosure form to the Commission on Ethics Aug. 31 and it was accidently sent to the wrong place by UPS.

But some of those accruing ethics fines are habitual offenders who for years have failed to send in the required forms and owe thousands of dollars in fines to the state.

The fines form the current period start to accumulate on Sept. 1, two months after all government employees and members of various boards and commissions are required to send details of their personal finances to the state or county. They max out at $1,500 per year, but officials are still required by law to submit their financial disclosure, even if they pay the fine.

Violators have no excuse, says Kerrie Stillman, spokeswoman for the state Commission on Ethics.

"We send a certified mail notice July 31 for people who don't file their forms," she said. "We send out a postcard notice in August, a courtesy notice saying the deadline is coming… We manned the phones. We spend the day calling people who we have contact information for… letting them know that they have a couple days."

Still, the commission deals with longtime offenders.

Timothy Farrant, a trustee of Westwood taxing district in Hillsborough County, owes $9,225 for filing years as far back as 2008. He has had two additional years worth of fines waived by the commission.

Hillsborough County hasn't heard from Farrant in years, said Mary Mahoney, a contractor with the county who's currently serving as its liaison with the taxing districts.

"Nobody's been able to track him down," she said. "The address we have in our database and that I guess the stat has in its database keeps bouncing back."

Robert Holland, who serves on the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority owes $7,725 for not filing forms on time since 2009. That's in addition to the $3,525 in late fees he's paid over the years for not filing between 2005 and 2008. He filed a his 2014 financial records in August, early enough to avoid a fine, but it was the wrong form.

Mike Murphy, of the Cooperative Producers Water Control District in Hendry County, owes $7,725 for failing to submit information going back to 2008. A $1,500 fine in 2007 was waived.

Daniel Fils-Aime, a regional board member with CareerSource Florida in South Florida, hasn't filed his form the last three years and owes $3,225.

Attempts to reach Farrant, Holland, Murphy and Fils-Aime on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The fines have long been hard to enforce. The ethics commission's list of fines that have been sent to collection agencies tops $500,000. It includes few fines older than 2007 and nothing from the current year.

Now, they have new powers designed to make ethics laws easier to enforce.

A law passed in 2014 lets the commission recommend that the governor remove from office someone who has failed to file financial disclosures.

"The Legislature decided to make a policy change to give us the ability to collect those fines," Stillman said, though she said it's still not the ideal scenario.

"We would much rather have compliance and transparency than have to spend time and money to fine people and collect those fines," she said.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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