June 25, 2019 - 8:45am
Florida’s suspended top financial regulator, in a lawsuit alleging he is the victim of “pay to play --- or else” politics, contends state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is running a “powerful but corrupt enterprise.”
Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin, who remains on administrative leave after an allegation of harassment by an agency employee, also seeks whistleblower status as part of a 33-page complaint filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court against Tallahassee lobbyist Paul Mitchell.
Rubin wants Gov. Ron DeSantis to move an ongoing inspector general investigation into Rubin’s behavior away from Patronis’ office and for Attorney General Ashley Moody to open a criminal investigation into her fellow Cabinet member.
DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferre said in an email Monday that the governor is reviewing the request. Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Moody, said Monday afternoon the Attorney General’s Office had not received a formal request for an investigation.
Patronis’ office, citing the advice of counsel, declined to comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Katie Strickland said.
The lawsuit, which alleges conspiracy and defamation, was filed late Friday against Southern Strategy Group lobbyist Paul Mitchell. It contends that Patronis and his inner circle, which includes Mitchell, employ public humiliation and defamatory allegations to replace outsiders who “might expose their unlawful activities.”
Mitchell did not immediately reply to a request for comment Monday. Mitchell, who on May 29 said he would provide no further comments, described Rubin’s account of events as “largely fictional” and “self-serving.”
Rubin has been on administrative leave since May 10 amid an investigation into alleged inappropriate behavior toward an employee. Rubin, hired to the $166,000-a-year position by DeSantis and the Cabinet in late February, has strongly refuted the harassment allegation and refused to resign.
Patronis, who had championed Rubin for the job, has been supported in his call for Rubin to resign by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. Moody has called the sexual-harassment accusation troubling. DeSantis has said action will occur swiftly once the inspector general investigation is completed.
Meanwhile, Rubin in the lawsuit claims attempted “extortion” by Patronis and has sought to tie the sexual-harassment complaint to a separate decision not to hire Kimberly Grippa, the ex-wife of former Leon County Commissioner Tony Grippa, a Mitchell friend.
“It is Rubin’s hope that this lawsuit will shed light on this enterprise’s pattern of corruption and abuse of power, for the ultimate benefit of Florida’s citizens,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit contends Patronis, Mitchell and Abigail Vail, who is now leading the day-to-day business of the Office of Financial Regulation, convinced one of Rubin’s staffers to “escalate a fully resolved office personality clash into a formal human-resources complaint.”
In a complaint Patronis released to the media last month, the employee said Rubin took her to lunch on April 30 and brought her to his downtown condo. Inside, Rubin told the employee to remove her 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.
Rubin’s lawsuit said that while the staffer didn’t allege sexual harassment in her complaint, Patronis in a press release announcing the suspension of Rubin declared there were “troubling allegations in a sexual harassment complaint filed by an OFR employee.”
The lawsuit, highlighting text messages, claims Rubin’s father, a wealthy developer, repeatedly refused pressure to make a $1 million political donation for his son’s hiring. And later, the lawsuit contends Mitchell used the threat of contacting Rubin’s father about the harassment allegation to force a resignation.
“Increasingly desperate to execute Patronis’ program, Mitchell threatened to call Rubin’s 84-year-old father, who is in failing health,” the lawsuit said. “In what could only be compared to a scene from The Godfather, Mitchell texted Rubin that it would be ‘unfair to your parents, who are such lovely people, to find out after the news has broken.’”
On May 22, Mitchell allegedly texted Rubin’s father, “If you have a minute, I would love a chance to speak with you about what’s going on with Ron, and a suggestion on how best to resolve this. Ron wouldn’t take my advice that I offered in friendship before it all blew up, so now I’m hoping he will listen to you as I think he might have one last chance to best deal with this.”
Rubin’s lawsuit also contends Patronis employed a similar form of public disparagement against Rubin’s predecessor at the Office of Financial Regulation, Drew Breakspear, who resigned under pressure last year from Patronis.
Patronis pointed to a “lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication” from Breakspear’s office. Breakspear disputed the claims.