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Republican Pruitt Draws Ethics Complaint

Culture of Corruption

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

TALLAHASSEE — Senate-President-to-be Ken Pruitt has drawn an ethics complaint accusing him of taking kickbacks and misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars raised through political committees and a charity.

Richard Cimoch, a Broward County Democratic committeeman, on Saturday sent complaints against Pruitt and his friend and fellow Republican, Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, to the state Commission on Ethics.

The complaint against Bogdanoff, of Fort Lauderdale, accuses her of using her taxpayer-paid legislative office for her personal business office, her law office and the office of the charity Pruitt has run since 2003.

"It's complete wrongdoing and it has got to stop somewhere," Cimoch said, adding that he filed the complaints because months have passed since The Palm Beach Post's revelations of Pruitt's and Bogdanoff's actions. "People get caught, and nothing happens."

Pruitt, of Port St. Lucie, referred questions to his lawyer, Ron Meyer, who called the complaint "politics at its worst" and added: "We won't dignify this tripe with a response."

Bogdanoff said she had not yet received a copy of the complaint.

"It's obviously political," she said. "Welcome to the campaign season."

Cimoch's sworn complaints cite actions by Pruitt and Bogdanoff reported in a series of articles by The Post:

•Pruitt began receiving $2,000 a month from Royal Palm Beach homebuilder Wally Sanger in 2003, the same year Pruitt started making payments on a discounted house Sanger built for him in Port St. Lucie. Neither Pruitt nor Sanger would describe in detail Pruitt's duties in exchange for that money. Seven years earlier, Pruitt had inserted language into a school construction bill favorable to Sanger and his partners, including West Palm Beach political consultant Randy Nielsen, who formed a company to market concrete portables within days of the new law's passage.

•Pruitt, from 2001 to 2005, collected $819,115 through three political committees, and during those same years paid $458,346 of that to three friends and allies: Bogdanoff, Fort Lauderdale lobbyist Carole Duncanson and Nielsen's Public Concepts firm. In 2003, a partner of Nielsen, Richard Johnston, paid Pruitt $56,966 from a realty business based in the Public Concepts suite.

•In 2003 and 2004, Pruitt raised $264,434 through the charity he ran, Partnership for Better School Funding, but spent only $7,495 on scholarships for needy students, a stated top priority of the charity. In those years, he also spent $104,489 on a bus tour he took with Bogdanoff to support the state Bright Futures Scholarships, culminating in a massive political rally at the Capitol courtyard in Tallahassee. Those years were also when he collected the pledges from other senators that would make him the Senate president for the 2006-08 term.

•Pruitt, on Aug. 18, 2004, directed his legislative staff to field a state Division of Elections query regarding one of his political committees.

•Pruitt, in 2004 and 2005, reported receiving $19,607 from one of his political committees for "reimbursements," even though the law at the time required more detail than that single word.

•Bogdanoff has been using state taxpayer money to rent a Fort Lauderdale building outside of her district that she herself owns, and which is also used as the address for her Enterprising Business Solutions consulting firm, for her law office, and for Pruitt's charity.

Cimoch wrote in his complaint that these actions warrant investigation by the Ethics Commission for violating the state's laws governing conduct by elected officials. He wrote that Pruitt's actions constitute "obtaining funds under false pretenses," "misusing legislative staff" and "kickbacks."

Regarding Pruitt's $2,000-a-month income from Sanger, Cimoch wrote: "During the 2006 session, Pruitt attempted to insert affordable housing language that would solely benefit Sanger's company."

An affordable housing amendment was pushed, unsuccessfully, by Sanger's lobbyist, Richard Coates, and sponsored by Pruitt ally Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

The state Ethics Commission can, if it finds that complaints are valid, recommend to the Senate that Pruitt be fined or even removed from office. The commission by law is prohibited from confirming or denying the existence of a complaint until it decides whether it has "probable cause" to investigate the complaint.

Pruitt briefly faced an Ethics Commission complaint in 2000, based on his inserting into the 1999-2000 state budget $200,000 for a Port St. Lucie redevelopment project on which he stood to earn a $28,000 commission. The state money was vetoed by Gov. Jeb Bush, and the project fell apart because of local opposition.

The commission cleared Pruitt, at the time the chairman of the House budget committee.

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