The latest appointments to Florida's Commission on Ethics include a prominent Miami attorney and civic leader with connections to the developer at the center of a troubled development project in Miami-Dade County.
Larry Handfield, who for more than three years led Miami-Dade's Public Health Trust overseeing Jackson Memorial Hospital, was appointed to the state ethics group earlier this month by Gov. Charlie Crist. The appointment, announced Nov. 23, requires Senate confirmation. His term would run through June 2009.
Handfield is also vice chairman of the venerable James E. Scott Community Association - a connection that brought him some scrutiny this year, because he represents a developer accused of illegally funneling campaign contributions to JESCA's president: County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle.
The developer, Dennis Stackhouse, was at the center of a now-scuttled deal to build a biotech park in Liberty City. He was arrested in September, accused of illegally reimbursing employees for $8,000 in campaign donations. He is also under investigation - but has not been charged - for double-billing a county-funded poverty agency for more than $500,000.
Handfield represents Stackhouse in both cases.
Eight months before the donations were made, Handfield was among the Public Health Trust members who voted in favor of another deal with Stackhouse. The deal had Jackson Memorial Hospital - run by the trust - agree to lease clinic space in the proposed biotech park instead of building its own with millions of dollars provided by the state.
Handfield said that as chairman of the Public Health Trust, he had no knowledge of the biotech project.
"All those things were in the pipeline and were staff-driven, which is usual," Handfield said. "I never met Mr. Stackhouse before he came into my office trying to seek my legal services. I did not advocate anything on his behalf."
Handfield also signed a letter from JESCA to Stackhouse seeking charitable donations, but said it was one of hundreds of unaddressed letters and that he did not know Stackhouse had been solicited. There are so many such letters every year, "I get tired of signing," he said.
"I have no idea who they're going to," he said.
Crist's office did not return a call Thursday.
During his years as chairman, Handfield led the trust through financial and administrative struggles, bringing the organization from a $150 million deficit to a $68 million surplus.
He also raised his already-high profile as a member of Miami's civic scene. The Carol City Senior High graduate worked under state attorney Janet Reno and a federal prosecutor, later going into private practice where he represented numerous high-profile defendants.
He also chaired the City of Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, challenging Police Chief John Timoney over reporting police shootings and other issues.
His earlier gubernatorial appointments include the Sentencing Guidelines Commission - a group that overhauled Florida's criminal sentences - and the 11th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, which he chaired.
He also serves on the board of trustees of Bethune-Cookman University, his alma mater, which named a music building in his honor.