Tallahassee lawmakers beware -- watchful eyes are spying on state legislators, hoping to dig up dirt by sneaking glimpses at their personal lives and whereabouts as they move through the state Capitol.
For at least three days during this year’s legislative session, private investigators used surveillance cameras in a Tallahassee condominium building, keeping track of the comings and goings of high-profile lawmakers and lobbyists living -- and visiting -- there.
A Politico Florida story published Tuesday unveiled a series of discoveries from private eyes hoping to uncover more scandals in the state’s capital city where lawmakers are supposed to work, but new reports suggested some legislators could have been there for more than just a job.
At the center of the controversy in the Politico report is Senate Budget Chief and Republican candidate for governor Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who was the subject of several rounds of spying.
Weeks after the 2017 legislative session wrapped up, Latvala was caught kissing a female lobbyist -- first on the cheek, then on the mouth -- in the parking lot of a local Italian restaurant.
Latvala, who is married, didn’t deny the kiss had taken place but didn’t seem to believe it was too big of a deal.
“I’m sure there are a lot of pictures of me kissing people up there, especially if I have not seen them for a while,” Latvala said in a statement to Politico Florida. “Some people kiss on the lips. Different people have different habits.”
Latvala had been followed for over two years, but he wasn’t the only one being watched.
A report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found Gainesville private investigator Derek Uman set up a secret device in the hallway of the Tennyson condominium building near downtown Tallahassee, where he would track lobbyists and legislators as they roamed the halls, entering and exiting the building.
Uman isn’t a stranger to professional snooping -- he specializes “infidelity surveillance,” and “political and corporate surveillance.”
The secret tapings went on until Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, found the camera, which had fallen from its position. Dozens of lawmakers live in the Tennyson, so Braynon handed the camera over to the condo’s concierge who then gave it to the FDLE.
FDLE found Uman had been working within the “full scope” of the law as a private investigator and concluded he had not conducted any criminal acts, promptly closing the investigation. Uman denied being involved with the hidden camera.
Sen. Braynon told the Miami Herald he believed the private investigators could have been the handiwork of former Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned earlier this year after hurling racially-charged insults at a black lawmaker.
“They told me, that he was putting private investigators on legislative people he thought were at fault for his demise,” said Braynon.
Both Latvala and Braynon have had their names in stories revolving around sexual misconduct over the past week when Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens resigned after news broke he had an extramarital affair with a Tallahassee lobbyist. The Artiles connection had some wondering whether the former Miami lawmaker had sent for Clemens, who pressured Artiles to resign and was a fierce critic of his behavior in April.
Latvala and Braynon worked together to “handle” the situation between Clemens and lobbyist Devon West, who left the country before getting a new job working in intergovernmental affairs for Broward County.
Though the rumors of infidelity in Tallahassee are nothing new, private investigators have rarely been thought to be pieces to the scandals. Lawmakers now wait with bated breath as the next shoe prepares to drop, causing many to ponder who, if anyone, will be next to have their dirty laundry aired.