It’s about time criminal investigators examined the hot mess in the office of Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis. There is too much smoke regarding the handling of sexual harassment cases and allegations of ham-handed political pressure, and it’s time to check for the fire. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is finally involved, and its investigation should not be limited to one incident but follow the smell wherever it leads.
As Lawrence Mower of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported, FDLE is reviewing whether Patronis or someone on his staff broke state law and released a woman’s sexual harassment complaint for political purposes. The woman’s attorney says Patronis’ office told her the allegations have been referred to the state’s top law enforcement agency ‘‘to ensure your client’s complaint receives an independent and fair review...’’ That is obviously the right call, and good for Patronis’ office for taking that step.
What is not so good is the steady stream of revelations involving Patronis’ office and allegations of sexual harassment, the public release of those allegations, political pressure to fill positions that are anything but political, outside interference from lobbyists and the questionable timing of a big political contribution. Overseeing the state’s finances and regulating financial institutions are the last government responsibilities that should be tainted by the perception of improper or illegal behavior within the office, or by improper or suspicious influence from the outside.
The narrow issue Patronis has asked FDLE to investigate involves the release of a sexual harassment complaint without the consent of the woman who filed the complaint against the state’s top banking regulator, Ronald Rubin. The woman alleges Rubin made inappropriate comments to her earlier this year and invited her to his downtown Tallahassee apartment to see the renovations. Patronis issued a news release announcing Rubin was suspended and included a copy of the woman’s complaint hours after it was filed in May. Politico reported this week that an investigation into that woman’s complaint and two others by the Office of Financial Regulation inspector general has been completed and a report has been delivered to the governor and Cabinet, who oversee Rubin’s office. That report should become public after Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet — Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — decide whether Rubin should be punished.
Of course, that’s not the half of it when it comes to the allegations involving Patronis and his office. Politico reports that Rubin, the banking regulator, has sought protection as a whistleblower and has filed a lawsuit claiming the allegations against him are part of a “pay to play’’ conspiracy. He says those players include Patronis, a lobbyist that is a long-time friend, and one of his biggest political donors. And Rubin says efforts to force him out began after he would not hire as his general counsel the ex-wife of a Patronis friend — who Rubin claims is one of the complainants against him. Got all that?
There is much more. For example, the Times/Herald’s Mower reported Sunday that Rubin’s predecessor as banking regulator says Patronis intervened in a case on behalf of a Miami financial adviser after the adviser gave his campaign $25,000. This is why FDLE should not limit itself in its investigation. DeSantis, Moody and Fried are also going to have to wade in, because the banking regulator reports to all of them. There is plenty of smoke around Jimmy Patronis and his office, and that suggests there may be a bigger fire burning somewhere.