Besieged Florida banking regulator avoids firing — for now

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has given himself extra time to sort out allegations of sexual harassment against the state's banking commissioner and counterclaims of a political setup.

DeSantis said this week that he will wait for a report by a state inspector general tasked with investigating the allegations before deciding whether to fire Banking Commissioner Ron Rubin, a former Republican staffer on the House Financial Services Committee, who had been in the superintendent job less than three months.

Rubin was put on leave last month after a sexual harassment complaint was filed against him by an employee. He has countered with allegations of political corruption.

“There’s an investigation going on,” DeSantis told reporters in a scrum after a cabinet meeting Tuesday. “I look forward to getting that [inspector general’s] report and obviously, if action needs to be taken, we’ll take it swiftly. I think it’s best for us to get the facts.”

The controversy has become increasingly bizarre as accusations fly among the parties involved. The timeline of events and strange twists in the matter suggest more revelations may be forthcoming when the inspector general’s report is ultimately released.

Rubin has denied the sexual harassment allegations. Instead, he alleged last week that the complaint was politically motivated in retaliation for what he claims was his refusal to hire an unqualified job candidate, hand-picked by a Tallahassee lobbyist with connections to state officials.

The complaints against Rubin

The employee who filed the sexual harassment complaint against Rubin alleged that she was put in an “uncomfortable situation,” when he took her to lunch on April 29 and they stopped at his condo twice to check on repairs. He has confirmed many aspects of her complaint, including asking the employee if she wanted to attend a conference in Washington, D.C., and offering the use of his D.C. apartment if she planned to visit as a tourist when he was not there.

That complaint was first made public by Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who oversees Florida's Department of Financial Services. Patronis put Rubin on leave, launched an investigation and posted documents detailing the allegation, including a redacted version of the complaint which did not name the employee.

Patronis then published a call for more information. Two additional complaints were posted May 14 by Patronis' office under the headline, "Ronald Rubin Misconduct Investigation." Those two complaints — while detailing unusual behavior by Rubin — did not appear to directly allege sexual harassment. In one, an unnamed job applicant alleged Rubin disparaged the people of Tallahassee, grabbed her phone and described it as a "mommy" phone. The third complaint said he allegedly gave his personal cell phone number to two female employees.

On May 29, Patronis cited these complaints, the preliminary findings of the IG report and a Bloomberg Law article that alleged that Rubin engaged in “a pattern of inappropriate behavior” toward female colleagues as reasons why Rubin should immediately resign.

On Tuesday, Patronis said that Florida's four-member cabinet (of which Patronis and DeSantis are members) would ultimately vote to fire Rubin.

“Mr. Rubin needs to do the right thing and resign otherwise the Cabinet will have to act at some point,” Patronis said. “We’ll do an exhaustive nationwide search on his replacement when that vacancy is created.”

Rubin can only be removed by a vote of the state’s four Cabinet-level officials: DeSantis, Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. Both the governor and CFO have veto power over the hiring of the banking commissioner.

Rubin's complaints against Patronis

Rubin, meanwhile, has argued that he is the victim of political corruption. He has released an 11-page statement through his lawyer that alleges that he was told by Patronis' chief of staff to hire an unqualified candidate as general counsel of the banking department.

In his statement, Rubin claims that Ryan West, Patronis' chief of staff, gave him a resume for Kim Grippa, a senior professor of business at Daytona State College and the ex-wife of a former Florida county commissioner, asking that she then be considered for the general counsel role. Rubin says he was then approached by Paul Mitchell, a Tallahassee lobbyist, who pressured him to make the hire.

“Mr. Mitchell called me as I was driving to work. I asked how he knew Ms. Grippa and why he had given Mr. West her resume, since she did not seem qualified to be general counsel,” Rubin wrote. “Mr. Mitchell laughed and replied, 'That resume didn’t come from me, it came from Jimmy' " (Patronis).

Mitchell is politically connected to Patronis. He held a fundraiser for Patronis last year in Palm Beach, and previously served as chief of staff more than a decade ago at Florida's Department of Insurance, a predecessor agency that Patronis oversees.

Mitchell has broadly denied the claim, saying he wasn't involved in hiring decisions in the Office of Financial Regulation.

“I won’t dignify Mr. Rubin’s largely fictional written account with a point-by-point rebuttal,” Mitchell said in an emailed statement last week. “I would simply suggest that he has created a self-serving narrative calculated to distract from the shocking fact that in a state government career that spanned mere weeks, he managed to rack up a series of sexual harassment complaints that, if true, completely disqualify him as a public official.”

Making the situation more complicated, Rubin claims that the second complaint filed against him — the one in which a job applicant alleges he took her "mommy" phone to help look up something related to the interview — was filed by Grippa herself. Though the name of the person who filed the second complaint posted on Patronis' website is redacted, officials have not denied that Grippa made the complaint.

Rubin argues that Grippa's complaint was prompted by Patronis, and that Patronis was looking for an excuse to fire him.

Patronis has had his own issues related to potential discrimination. In May, Florida's Department of Financial Services paid nearly $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against Patronis by a former female staffer who alleged a "boy's club" atmosphere led to discrimination against women in the office.

The investigation

Both the initial Rubin allegations and counterclaims have been referred to the state's inspector general. While Patronis claims that the IG had "preliminary findings," DeSantis has appeared to dispute that is the case.

“There were some reports that there was some interim finding,” said DeSantis. “I’ve not been given anything.”

Moody, the Florida attorney general, made it clear that all the allegations are being probed.

“Once that is completed I’m sure the full Cabinet will meet, as I have suggested from the very beginning, to have that discussion and determine whether [Rubin’s] termination is necessary and appropriate,” Moody said. “I want that to happen as soon as possible and certainly as soon as we have a report that is complete.”

State officials are now also being questioned about how Rubin, a former enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who later became an outspoken critic of former CFPB Director Richard Cordray, got hired in the first place. Since leaving the House Financial Services Committee four years ago, Rubin has been a freelance writer but does not appear to have held a job.

“The credentials that Mr. Rubin has are fitting for the job,” Patronis said when he was asked by reporters about the hiring. He offered to produce details of the scrutiny Rubin went through as part of the vetting process, including being fingerprinted and cleared of criminal activity.

He then described the need to move quickly, claiming the Office of Financial Regulation was “paralyzed” and “not as effective as it needs to be because of Mr. Rubin’s challenges.”

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Sexual harassment Consumer banking Financial regulations Ron DeSantis Florida