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Ethics Commission not ready to wrap up Fresen case

The state Ethics Commission on Friday declined to accept a written agreement between state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and state Advocate Diane Guillemette that would have ended a probe into Fresen's finances.

In the stipulation, Fresen conceded that he had failed to properly disclose his net worth, assets and liabilities on financial disclosure forms filed between 2008 and 2011.

Guillemette had recommended the commission accept the agreement. But commissioners said they needed more time to consider Fresen's response, and what steps he was taking to correct the errors.

"The whole case just smacks of a lack of good faith," Ethics Commissioner Matthew Carlucci said.

Fresen, who did not attend Friday's Ethics Commission meeting, told The Herald that the errors were "minor" and had since been amended.

"There was never a purposeful omission of anything material," he said.

In previous interviews, Fresen called the allegations "baseless" and "a political attack."

The stipulation will come back to the Ethics Commission at its December meeting. If the document is approved, it will be up to the Florida House of Representatives to decide if further action or a penalty is needed.

The investigation into Fresen's finances dates back to 2012, when three separate complaints were filed with the Ethics Commission.

Prior to Friday's meeting, Alice Mensch, who authored one of the complaints, urged the commission to reject the agreement between Fresen and the advocate.

"The proposed stipulation and order is based on an incomplete and deficient investigation, contains material omissions and misstatements of fact, fails to require or compel Mr. Fresen to amend and correct his misleading and deficient public financial disclosures, abdicates the Commission's fundamental responsibility to recommend fair and adequate penalty for violations of law, and is the product of a process that was at best, deeply flawed, and at worst, deliberately designed to subvert public involvement and compromise the best interest of the public in favor of preferential treatment of a serial violator of ethics laws," Mensch wrote.

Guillemette countered that the investigation had been "thorough."

"The investigator even found something which was not included in the complaint," Guillemette said. "He ran the respondent’s name and found a State Farm judgment" of $2,521 that had gone unpaid.

But commissioners were bothered by the fact that Fresen had never paid a $1,500 fine assessed by the commission in 2004.

“Here you got a guy [who] acknowledges [a fine], but just isn't going to pay it because he doesn't have to,” Commissioner Linda Robison said. “There’s a legal issue here and a morality issue here.”

Said Carlucci: "I'm not willing to accept any stipulation until I know a little bit more about what the mentality was behind not paying the fine... You make a mistake, you own up to it, you correct it -- that’s one thing. To thumb your nose at the public trust is a whole different thing.”

Fresen said he was unaware of the fine until 2012. Guillemette noted the statute of limitations had already run out.

Fresen, who is serving his third term in the Florida House and chairs the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, has been dogged by questions about his personal finances.

He is running for reelection in 2014. Democrat Daisy Baez and Republican Amory Bodin are also making bids to represent House District 114, which includes parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay.