Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Home RSS

Updated: Advocate finds 'no probable cause' in Sawicki ethics complaint

February 2, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

An advocate with the Florida Commission on Ethics has found no evidence to substantiate any violation of law by a former Cape Coral official accused of failing the report gifts and disclose potential conflicts of interest as required by state statutes.

Advocate Elizabeth A. Miller accordingly recommends that the Commission board formally find no probable cause on each of four complaint allegations filed against former mayor Marni Sawicki by then sitting Cape Coral City Council member Richard Leon.

Sawicki said Tuesday the recommendation was welcome, but expected.

"I'm relieved," she said via a phone interview. "I knew I did nothing wrong."

Miller reviewed a Report of Investigation completed Oct. 27, 2017 and a subsequent Supplemental Investigative Report completed Jan. 9 in making her no probable cause finding.

Gifts accepted in the course of a relationship with cohabitation or the anticipation of cohabitation, need not be reported, Miller stated.

In addition, to establish a violation of state statutes pertaining to the solicitation or acceptance of gifts accepted by a public official three things must be proven: 1) That the person is a public officer, employee or a candidate for nomination or office; 2) that the person receiving the gifts solicited or accepted something of value including a gift, loan, reward, promise of future employment, favor or service and 3) that such solicitation or acceptance was based on an understanding that the item or items of value would influence an official vote, action or judgement.

While Miller found that at one point in time the gift-giver and his company met the legal definition of a vendor, the items in question - including jewelry, use of a vehicle and a condominium rental - "There is no evidence that (Sawicki) solicited the gifts or that her acceptance of the gifts was based on an understanding that her acceptance of the gifts was based upon an understanding that her vote, official action or judgement would be influenced."

What's more, as the two lived together as a couple from December 2014 until November 2015, and anticipated to do so shortly before, Sawicki was not required to report jewelry received during that time, the advocate opined. State statutes exempt gifts received from family members, which by definition includes "any natural person having the same legal residence as the public officer or employee," the advocate's recommendation document states.

The next step is for the Commission on Ethics Board to review the advocate's recommendations and determine whether to accept them. That determination is expected at the state agency's March 9 meeting.

The 50-plus page complaint that alleged Sawicki did not properly report gifts received during the relationship and that she also failed to disclose possible conflicts of interest, was filed by Leon in August of 2016.

After the issue was brought to his attention, Leon first brought the question to the then-sitting City Council. When Council indicated it was more a matter for the state, Leon sent the complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics for its review, he has said in previous interviews.

He also is glad the matter is apparently nearing its end point.

"I understand where the state is coming from and what its decision is," Leon said via telephone Tuesday. "It's unfortunate it had to be drug out this long, but I'm glad they were able to finally get answers to the questions I posed."

Still pending is a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, which as of Tuesday afternoon, remained active, according to FDLE officials.

Sawicki said she expects a similar outcome.

"I know it will come back fine because I didn't do anything," she said of the FDLE probe.

Sawicki said she believes the FDLE investigation is an offshoot of the Ethics complaint.

Leon said he filed no criminal complaint with the agency and has no knowledge related to the FDLE matter.

Sawicki previously notified the city, and Leon, that she would seek reimbursement for her legal fees if no violations were found.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include quotes from the parties.



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web