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Four Keys officials fined total of $20,000 for ethics violations

A local political battle in the Florida Keys is proving very costly for four Monroe County commissioners.

The four agreed Friday to pay a total of $20,000 in fines for filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms with the state for four years in violation of state law and the Florida Constitution.

Meeting in Tallahassee, the Commission on Ethics unanimously approved the fines against commissioners Heather Carruthers, Danny Kolhage, Sylvia Jean Murphy and David Payne Rice.

All four elected officials acknowledged errors of omission involving investments, income or both on annual Form 6 disclosure statements for the years 2012 through 2015. All four have submitted amended statements for all four years.

Rice’s fine was $6,000, Murphy’s fine was $4,000 and the other two fines were $5,000 each.

Attorney Mark Herron, appearing on the commissioners’ behalf, urged the ethics commission to approve four agreements known as joint stipulations.

All four complaints were filed by Richard Boettger of Key West, a tax preparer who cited in his complaints that the commissioners ordered an audit of a non-profit animal shelter in Marathon that ended the shelter’s animal control contract in the Middle Keys.

Boettger is a friend of the shelter’s former director, Linda Gottwald, according to a report in the Florida Keys Keynoter and Reporter newspaper.

In an earlier ethics case, the paper reported, the commission’s fifth member, Monroe County Mayor George Neugent, agreed to a $500 fine for not disclosing an honorary golf course membership.

“He (Boettger) is mad at George for Linda Gottwald’s downfall and he’s blaming us for making him mayor,” Commissioner Murphy told the newspaper.

In Carruthers’ case, an analysis by the ethics commission staff noted that she listed the cash value of a brokerage account, “but failed to properly identify the specific assets contained in the account.” The law requires disclosure of each source of income greater than $1,000.

The ethics panel approved stipulations in all four cases, which brought them all to an end without the need for extensive public hearings.

The maximum fine that the Commission on Ethics can impose in a case is $10,000.

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