Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis wants the state’s top financial regulator --- whom he championed for the job earlier this year --- to resign, amid allegations of sexual harassment.
But Ronald Rubin, who was hired by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet in late February as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, strongly disputes the allegations.
Rubin is “unwilling to resign,” his lawyer, Daniel Blonsky, said in an email Wednesday afternoon.
Blonsky said Rubin wants a “fair investigation,” referring a reporter to a lengthy statement the commissioner gave to Patronis’ inspector general on Tuesday.
Rubin was placed on administrative leave earlier this month, amid an investigation into a sexual-harassment complaint, along with other accusations --- including comments about “old” employees and “rednecks” --- that have been leveled against the Office of Financial Regulation commissioner.
In his 11-page statement, Rubin blamed the complaints on a prominent insurance industry lobbyist, who he said has influence over the agency.
Patronis said in a press release Wednesday that Rubin should “step aside” for the good of the office. The actions outlined in the preliminary findings of his inspector general and in media reports are “alarming and cannot be tolerated in any work environment, especially one of public trust,” Patronis said.
“If I could remove Mr. Rubin from office myself, I would,” Patronis said in the release. “But, this is a Cabinet-appointed position that would require Cabinet action. It should not come to that.”
Patronis’ office did not respond to a request for a copy of the inspector general’s findings.
Patronis’ demand for Rubin to step down was quickly supported by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who said she was briefed on the inspector general’s preliminary report.
“Commissioner Rubin has displayed a pattern of poor judgment, which we cannot allow in the person responsible for regulating our state’s banking, consumer finance, and securities industries,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “I believe that Commissioner Rubin’s immediate resignation is necessary at this time.”
Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Attorney General Ashley Moody, reiterated that, since learning of the allegations earlier this month, she has called for the Cabinet to consider Rubin’s termination. The governor’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Moody, Fried, Patronis and DeSantis are on an economic-development mission in Israel this week.
After Rubin was put on administrative leave, Bloomberg Law published a detailed report exposing allegations of past inappropriate behavior by Rubin toward female colleagues and inconsistencies in his self-reported employment history.
When asked about the Bloomberg story, Patronis and Moody said they were unaware of potential misconduct by Rubin before signing off on his appointment to the $166,000-a-year job in February.
DeSantis and the Cabinet could take up the issue of Rubin when they meet again Tuesday in Tallahassee. As of Wednesday afternoon, however, Rubin’s position was not on the agenda.
In a complaint Patronis released to the media earlier this month, an employee said Rubin took her to lunch on April 30 and brought her to his downtown condo. Inside, Rubin told the employee to remove shoes so as not to track dust inside. Rubin also removed his shoes before they viewed the condo. The employee described this as an “uncomfortable situation” in the complaint.
But in a statement submitted to Patronis’ inspector general on Tuesday, Rubin said he had no romantic intentions with the employee and didn’t intend to make her uncomfortable.
“It disturbs me greatly to think that what I viewed as innocent interactions may have caused her any amount of distress,” he said.
Rubin claimed in the statement that, before he was hired, Patronis’ chief of staff Ryan West advised Rubin to fire the Office of Financial Regulation’s general counsel, and that a replacement was already in mind.
Rubin also alleged that Paul Mitchell, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group whom he met socially last year and who helped Rubin get the job, became “bullying and abusive” after Rubin didn’t hire the ex-wife of a former Leon County commissioner as general counsel or for another top position.
Rubin claimed he argued with Mitchell after interviewing the woman for a job on March 21.
“What the hell is wrong with you? She said you called her incompetent!” Mitchell allegedly told Rubin.
Rubin said he told her she wasn’t qualified to be the agency’s enforcement director.
“Mr. Mitchell snapped back, ‘Her qualifications are irrelevant. You were just supposed to hire her!’ ” Rubin said in the statement.
In an email, Mitchell said: “I won’t dignify Mr. Rubin’s largely fictional written account with a point-by-point rebuttal.”
“I would simply suggest that he has created a self-serving narrative calculated to distract from the shocking fact that in a state government career that spanned mere weeks, he managed to rack up a series of sexual harassment complaints that, if true, completely disqualify him as a public official,” Mitchell wrote.
When asked about Rubin’s statement, Patronis’ spokeswoman Katie Strickland referred to the chief financial officer’s initial call for Rubin to resign and rejected the notion that Rubin’s statement presented an accurate picture of Mitchell's interactions with the agency.
“No, Mr. Rubin’s account is the very definition of victim blaming and an attempt to undermine these victims’ testimonies of troubling allegations,” Strickland said in an email.
After the initial allegations were disclosed on May 10, Patronis’ office released a redacted statement from the general counsel applicant detailing an interview with Rubin in which he was alleged to have called people from Tallahassee “rednecks” and expressed interest in getting rid of three state employees for being “too old.”
But in his statement to the inspector general, Rubin labeled the job applicant’s allegations “blatantly false,” “inflammatory,” and “intentionally fabricated.”
“It is ridiculous to think that I would make such discriminatory comments to an interviewee whom I had just met and who had already made a negative impression on me,” Rubin said.
Rubin noted the applicant had an “air of entitlement, that I feared she would make my staff and other OFR employees miserable.”
After the employee with whom Rubin went to lunch asked to be moved to another part of the agency, Rubin claimed Mitchell told him that the decision had already been made to remove Rubin from office. In his statement, Rubin said Mitchell told him that if he didn’t immediately resign, the employee would file a sexual harassment complaint.
“It would be made public, and the Cabinet would call an emergency meeting and fire me without hearing my side of the story,” Rubin stated. “On that call, Mr. Mitchell also said he had drafted a resignation letter from me to the governor explaining that I was resigning to take care of my ill parents, and he would email it to me as soon as we got off the phone. He said I had no choice --- the decision had been made.”
Rubin said when he later spoke to Patronis’ chief of staff, West said: “If Mr. Mitchell said I had to resign, I had to resign.”