Florida Commission on Ethics to Consider Dismissal of Ethics Charges Brought Against Former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried

Nikki Fried [Photo coutesy of News Service of Florida]

By Caroline Klancke, Florida Ethics Institute.

During its public session meeting on March 10, 2023, the Florida Commission on Ethics, will consider a Motion to Dismiss Complaint filed by attorney Elizabeth Miller, who serves as an advocate for the commission, which requests the dismissal of the ethics complaint filed against former Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate, Nikki Fried, which alleged that she violated state law by failing to properly disclose personal financial information on her 2017 and 2018 financial disclosure filings.

The Commission conducted an investigation of the allegations after an ethics complaint was filed against Fried on June 4, 2021. The complaint arose after Fried filed amended financial-disclosure forms that showed substantially more income in 2017 and 2018 than had been previously reported. At its meeting on December 3, 2021, the Commission found probable cause to be believe that Fried had violated financial disclosure laws within the Code of Ethics, which require certain public officers and candidates to file full and public disclosure of their personal financial interests, by failing to accurately disclose her income in her 2017 and 2018 filings, and the matter was referred to the Division of Administrative Hearings for a full administrative hearing.

The motion to dismiss the complaint cites to affidavits from Fried, her Certified Public Accountant, Jeffrey Stern, and election attorney, Jason Blank, who helped prepare financial-disclosure forms showing her income in 2017 and 2018.

Notably, in his affidavit Mr. Stern swore at the time of the filings he provided up-to-date financial information to Fried’s attorney who prepared the financial disclosure filings. After reviewing the complaint Mr. Stern stated that in his studied opinion it “is inaccurate because Commissioner Fried reasonably relied on all the information she had available to her at the time” her 2017 and 2018 financial disclosure filings were completed. Regarding the amended forms, Mr. Stern explained that upon receiving further information germane to the Fried’s income, and not received prior to the filing of the respective financial disclosure forms, Mr. Stern worked with Ms. Fried and her election attorney to actively file amendments to the forms to reflect the more accurate income information. Further, Fried’s election attorney confirmed in his affidavit that Ms. Fried had signed the financial disclosure documents in reliance on his expert preparation and advice.

The motion also cites to a “Safe Harbor” provision of financial disclosure law which permits an attorney or CPA to prepare a financial disclosure filer’s form and provides that if the attorney or CPA signs the completed financial disclosure filing thereby indicating that the filing is true and correct based upon their reasonable knowledge and belief, the failure of the attorney or CPA to accurately transcribe the information provided by the filing individual does not constitute a violation of the financial disclosure requirements of the Code of Ethics.

In light of this information, the motion requests that the Ethics Commission dismiss the ethics complaint against Fried at its March 10 meeting based upon a “lack of evidence to proceed.”

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