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Ethics Commission reaches detente with Fresen

The months-long feud between the state Ethics Commission and state Rep. Erik Fresen came to an end on Friday, when ethics commissioners accepted a written agreement between Fresen and state Advocate Diane Guillemette.

The commission had previously rejected the stipulation, in which Fresen admitted to making mistakes on his financial disclosure forms.

The reason: Fresen refused to pay a $1,500 ethics fine assessed to him in 2003.

The penalty was assigned because Fresen did not file a financial disclosure after losing his job a legislative aide. Fresen’s attorney, J.C. Planas, said the lawmaker didn’t find out about the fine until 2012, at which time it was no longer enforceable.

But some members of the Ethics Commission insisted Fresen should pay anyway. They made their opinions known during contentious hearings in October and December. One commissioner likened the lawmaker’s actions to bank robbery.

The Ethics Commission conceded it had reached a stalemate with Fresen on Friday. Guillemette stressed that there was nothing they could do about the fine.

“We’re not in front of the commission today for non-payment of that fine,” she said.

The commission agreed to accept the agreement between Fresen and Guillemette, but not before offering strong parting words.

“I’m going to defer to the collective wisdom of what this group wants to do...” Commissioner Matthew Carlucci said. “But this gentleman owes a $1,500 fine and refused to pay up. I have to say that that does stick in my craw a little bit because other people have stepped up and paid theirs. That’s not an even playing field to me.”

Said Commissioner Linda Robison: “We don’t think it’s the right behavior for an elected official, but at the same time, we’ve done everything we can possibly do.”

It will be up to the House of Representatives to decide whether to punish Fresen for the errors on his disclosures.

After the ethics hearing, Planas said the mistakes were small, and noted that Fresen had fixed them. 

“He definitely comported with the spirit of the statute by being upfront about what he makes and owes,” he said.

Planas said Fresen had not been given preferential treatment as Carlucci suggested, but rather “singled out” by the Ethics Commission because he is a lawmaker.

“There are hundreds of former legislative assistant who probably did not fill out financial disclosures,” Planas said. “In reality, they [ethics commissioners] expect him to pay more because he is a legislator.” 

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