Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, hasn’t put his issues with the Florida Commission on Ethics behind him.
Fresen is refusing to pay a $1,500 fine related to his work as a legislative aide in 2003. He was fined because he didn’t file a required financial form.
“I find this appalling, and I think his constituents need to know that he has not paid a fine that was assessed against him,” said Commission vice chair Linda Robison, who suggested that Fresen has paid his lawyer much more than it would have cost to simply pay the fine.
His attorney, former state Rep. J.C. Planas, says Fresen didn’t file the form because he lost his job when his boss wasn’t re-elected.
“Trying to force him to pay a fine because he didn’t file a financial disclosure form seven months or eight months after he lost his job? I mean if this commission starts going after all the other legislative aides who didn’t do that then I’ll stand in agreement with you,” Planas said. “But until then, I’m sorry, I agree with my client.”
Planas said his client is being unfairly targeted. Then, Commissioner Michelle Anchors offered this analogy:
“Do you really, as an attorney, believe that in an analogous criminal situation, that one bank robber who knows that he did something wrong -- but we haven’t caught every bank robber -- is a justification for not penalizing or pursuing the bank robber who violated the law?”
“I don’t believe that’s analogous, Commissioner,” Planas replied.
Fresen, who wasn’t at the ethics hearing, admits to some financial-disclosure violations since he took office in 2008. He says he only found out about the long-unpaid fine last year.
Commissioner Matthew Carlucci took issue with Fresen’s insistence that the fine is now unenforceable.
“What he told our investigator was that he wasn’t paying it because he could wait out the statute of limitations,” Carlucci said. “He knew if he could wait four years, he wouldn’t have to pay.”
Commissioner Tom Freeman, a retired judge, thought members were being too hard on Fresen.
“I think we ought to look in the mirror and really, truly decide whether we are being fair and impartial in regard to members of the Legislature,” Freeman said. “I suggest to you most respectfully that perhaps we are not.”
The ethics commission voted 7-1 to reject a deal that would have closed the complaints against Fresen.
The case could go back to the commission in a few months or it could go to trial before the Division of Administrative Hearings.