Ethics complaint: Charlie Crist failed to disclose income, leases

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJuly 10, 2014 

TALLAHASSEE -- Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist failed to accurately report his income on his financial disclosure forms, according to an ethics complaint filed Wednesday.

The complaint, brought by Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, says Crist misrepresented his financial relationship with the St. Joe Company, a Panhandle-based real estate and timber firm that paid Crist to serve on its board.

The complaint also blasts Crist for failing to report any income from his own consulting company, Charlie Crist, LLC.

The company had a net profit of $255,330 in 2013, according to Crist’s tax return. But instead of reporting income from Charlie Crist, LLC on his financial disclosure, Crist lists the company’s bank account as an asset worth $128,884.

“Taken together, Mr. Crist’s reporting errors and omissions constitute a clear failure to substantially comply with the requirements imposed on him by the Florida Constitution, Florida Statutes and [Ethics] Commission Rules,” Gruters wrote in the complaint.

Crist spokesman Kevin Cate called the complaint “another pathetic flail” from Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign for reelection.

He would not answer questions about the income from St. Joe or Charlie Crist, LLC.

Crist’s finances have been in the spotlight since June, when he filed the financial documents required for his run for governor.

He later released his tax returns dating back to 2001. But he has not released his wife’s returns — an omission that has drawn criticism from Republican leaders.

Party leaders were equally as critical on Wednesday.

“Charlie Crist is cutting legal corners again,” Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Susan Hepworth said. “This time it is to avoid transparency on his personal financial disclosure.”

The ethics complaint says Crist “fundamentally misrepresents the nature of his financial relationship” with St. Joe by reporting his income as $182,933.

A proxy statement St. Joe filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013 says $32,933 was for serving on the board of directors and $150,000 was for consulting work after Crist stepped down.

But the complaint notes that Crist received $31,250 for providing “substantially similar” consulting services one year earlier.

“Thus, Mr. Crist has concealed the full extent of his relationship with the St. Joe Company in his financial disclosure,” Gruters wrote.

The complaint also says Crist failed to report two of his financial obligations: the leases on his Jeep Cherokee and an apartment in downtown St. Petersburg.

Crist mentioned both the car and the condo in a June 17 interview with the Herald/Times.

“As a result of this failure to substantially comply with financial disclosure obligations, Florida voters do not have an accurate picture of Mr. Crist's actual net worth,” Gruters wrote.

State law does not specify that candidates or elected officials must disclose automobile leases.

The ethics commission has been discussing the issue independently of the Crist complaint. The subject is on the agenda for commission’s July 25 meeting.

Republicans lodged a separate ethics complaint against the Democratic front-runner last month. If the ethics commission finds Crist violated the law in either case, he could face a fine.

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