UPDATED WITH A CORRECTION: Senate general counsel George Levesque in an email Saturday said he didn't say that he relied on a 1985 Florida Commission on Ethics opinion before giving advice to Simpson. He said he spoke generically and was referencing other opinions. He did say that he relies on Florida Commission on Ethics advisory opinions to provide the interpretation of the law
When is a conflict not a conflict for a Florida lawmaker?
For Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, it’s after he gets cleared by Senate legal counsel that no such conflict exists, even if it still, in all practical terms, remains.
Simpson, who reported his $15.6 million net worth last week, makes his money from an array of sources: an egg farm, Florida Traditions Bank and an environmental abatement company, which also employs House Speaker Will Weatherford as a $36,000-a-year consultant.
That company, Simpson Environmental Services, owns a 60 percent stake in SFB Turnpike Joint Venture, a trust that Simpson formed with two other contractors so they could compete for Florida Department of Transportation contracts.
In April 2011, SFB Turnpike Joint Venture won a contract with the DOT’s Turnpike Enterprises to provide asbestos removal, demolition, the capping of wells and underground utility work. Basically, it’s the joint venture’s job to knock down buildings and put up fences as the Turnpike and various other state toll roads expand. It’s for three years with a two-year renewal option. It’s lucrative, too, paying out about $1 million so far, Simpson said.
When the contract was signed, Simpson wasn’t an elected official. But three months before the contract was finalized, Simpson filed to run for the state senate. In 2012, he was “elected” to the District 18 seat after no one opposed him.
This posed a problem for him and the DOT contract.