New allegations, including comments about “old” employees and “rednecks,” have been leveled against Florida’s top financial regulator, who was put on administrative leave last week amid an investigation into a sexual-harassment complaint.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis late Friday announced that Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin had been placed on leave. Since then, two more allegations have been released about the conduct of Rubin, who landed the $166,000-a-year state job in February.
Rubin has not responded to requests for comment.
Patronis’ office released the additional allegations, including an email account of a job candidate’s awkward interview with Rubin. The candidate described Rubin as calling people from Tallahassee “rednecks” and expressing interest in getting rid of three state employees for being “too old.”
In the email, the job candidate also said Rubin took umbrage at a perceived slight from Gov. Ron DeSantis. The candidate, whose name and other identifying information have been redacted, said Rubin indicated he was happy about the governor attending a charity event he had orchestrated. However, he continued to tell the candidate he was “annoyed that the governor did not recognize him” at a subsequent event.
Patronis’ office also released an email that described a situation in which Rubin allegedly boasted during a meeting with staff members about knowing of the “sexual exploits” of Jordan Belfort, a former stockbroker portrayed in the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Biographical information for Rubin, a former special counsel in the Division of Enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, noted that he was the lead attorney in the prosecution of footwear designer Steve Madden and that Belfort was a cooperating witness.
The person who wrote the email initially brushed off Rubin’s comments about Belfort’s exploits as “a mistake that was made with good intentions.” But the person also recounted receiving second-hand information later about Rubin giving his personal cell-phone number to two female employees, which the person described as “potentially unprofessional.”
The copy of the sexual-harassment complaint released late Friday by Patronis’ office includes significant redactions and does not give the name, job title or even gender of the employee involved. But it indicates the allegations involved a relatively new hire who described interactions during a lunch and afterward as “awkward” and “uncomfortable.”
Patronis’ inspector general has begun a preliminary investigation, and DeSantis and other members of the state Cabinet have come out in support of looking into the matter.
Attorney General Ashley Moody has called for an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue, but her office said there is no planned meeting “at this time.” Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman for DeSantis said the allegations are “troubling” and that the governor will not comment while the investigation is pending.
DeSantis again got a lift so he could sell the state to New Yorkers.
The governor and Enterprise Florida President and CEO Jamal Sowell took a previously unannounced trip to New York on Monday to tout the state to officials from the technology and financial-services industries. To get there, they hopped on a NetJets flight paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.
On Tuesday, DeSantis briefly discussed the trip during a news conference.
“People understand that Florida’s tax environment is more favorable. They understand that our regulatory environment is more reasonable,” DeSantis said of his meetings with several firms. “I’ve let people know that our legal climate is better, thanks to my Supreme Court appointments, thanks to things like reforming (insurance) assignment of benefits.”
In February, DeSantis had to defend his use of a jet owned by businessman Jeffery Soffer for a similar trip. DeSantis countered that the Feb. 28 flight was “ethical” and the “most efficient” means to travel without costing taxpayers. The February flight was also covered by the Republican Party.
The flights are legal but have drawn questions about perception because they were funded by GOP donors.
Soffer is the owner of the Fontainebleau resort hotel in Miami Beach and the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach and at the time had gambling pursuits before the Legislature.
DeSantis is waiting to formally receive a new $91.1 billion state budget that includes money to replace a twin-engine aircraft he’s been using to get around on shorter trips.
CHARLIE TAKES THE WHEEL
Congressman Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, has joined opponents of state Senate President Bill Galvano’s plans to build and expand three major toll roads — an issue that awaits a decision from DeSantis.
“I vetoed a similar bill during my time as governor because there are smarter ways to grow and develop our transportation infrastructure — investing in public transportation, updating our current road and bridge system, and prioritizing sustainable growth,” Crist said in a statement.
Also opposing the bill (SB 7068) is former Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat who served as s U.S. senator. The bill would earmark $45 million during the upcoming fiscal year and begin steps to expand the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border; extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and adds a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.
Galvano, R-Bradenton, argues the projects would help lead to economic development in rural areas, handle future population growth and provide additional hurricane-evacuation routes.
DeSantis has until May 28 to act on the bill.
The measure has led to a battle that has pitted environmentalists and left-leaning groups against organizations such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Ports Council and the Florida Trucking Association.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Believing Ron DeSantis’ summary of the FBI briefing is like believing Bill Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report.” — former Democratic congressional candidate Pam Keith (@PamKeithFL).