Nikki Fried faces ethical investigation into financial disclosures

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  • Photo via the State of Florida

As she runs for governor in 2022, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will have to push back against claims she violated state law by failing to properly disclose financial information.

The State Ethics Commission on Wednesday issued an order finding “probable cause” that Fried had not correctly reported his income in 2017 and 2018 on financial disclosure forms filed with the state.

The commission ordered a public hearing to find out whether Fried, who was a medical marijuana lobbyist before being elected in 2018, violated state law. The commission determined probable cause on Friday and released the order and other documents in the case on Wednesday.

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Commission staff launched an investigation after Evan Power, a Republican leader and Leon County lobbyist, filed a complaint in June. The complaint came after Fried filed amended financial disclosure forms that showed significantly higher income in 2017 and 2018 than she previously reported.

Power’s complaint alleged that Fried, a Democrat, violated “public trust” by failing to fully and accurately submit the reports for 2017 and 2018.

But in a response in August, Fried’s lawyer Benedict Kuehne called the complaint “baseless.”

“The complaint is nothing more than a calculated political effort to challenge the integrity of Commissioner Fried during the election season and should be categorically dismissed for lack of legal sufficiency and probable cause,” Kuehne wrote.

State officials are required by law to file annual forms that detail information such as income, assets, liabilities, and net worth. Disclosure requirements also apply to state applicants, as Fried first did in 2018.

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Typically, reports reflect financial information from the end of the previous year. For example, a report tabled in 2018 would reflect financial information for 2017. It is designed, at least in part, to shed light on conflicts of interest of public officials.

A probable cause recommendation filed in September by commission counsel Elizabeth Miller, an attorney, said Fried in June 2018 reported receiving income of $ 84,000 in 2017 from his lobbying firm Igniting Florida, LLC. In May 2021, she filed an amended form showing income of $ 165,761 for 2017.

Additionally, Miller wrote that Fried on July 1, 2019, filed a report indicating zero income in 2018 from the lobbying firm. On January 30, 2020, Fried filed an amended form showing income of $ 72,000 in 2018. In May 2021, she filed another amended form showing income at $ 351,480.

Documents filed by Miller and Kuehne indicate that Jason Blank, a lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, helped prepare the forms. Blank told investigators he received Fried’s financial information and later determined that changes were needed after consulting with his accountant and reviewing tax returns.

Kuehne’s August response stated that Fried “disclosed his financial interests as fully as possible and amended Form 6 (the Financial Disclosure Form) when new and updated information was brought to his attention. attention and that of Mr. Blank “.


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