The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday upheld a $5,000 fine and public censure and reprimand against Frank Peterman for travel abuses while he served as secretary of juvenile justice under former Gov. Charlie Crist. The panel's action came on a 4-3 vote after a lengthy discussion, during which a motion to dismiss the entire case against Peterman failed on a 4-3 vote.
Peterman's attorney, Mark Herron, said he would appeal the ruling to a state appeals court. "We're on our way," Herron said after the vote.
Peterman's problems began with a Times/Herald report in November 2009, which triggered an ethics complaint by David Plyer of Clearwater.
Peterman, a former Democratic state representative from St. Petersburg, was found by a state hearing officer to have repeatedly abused his travel privileges during the time he worked at DJJ in 2008 and 2009. Citing the judge's findings, Assistant Attorney General Diane Guillemette said Peterman charged taxpayers to commute back and forth between Tallahassee and St. Petersburg, where his family lived and where he preached at a church while he worked for the state.
"He was there every weekend, or just about," Guillemette told the ethics commission. "He was not down there for work and there was no work on his calendar when he was down there."
Peterman previously paid restitution of about $24,000 to the state after a report by Crist's inspector general concluded that much of his travel was not justified. Because of that, three members of the ethics panel expressed the view that Peterman has already been punished. But commission member Jean Larsen of Port St. Lucie challenged that view.
"We are sending the message that if you do something wrong and get caught and pay it back you're off the hook, and that bothers me big time," Larsen said. -- Steve Bousquet