- Associated Press - Thursday, July 25, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida Cabinet fired the state’s top banking regulator Thursday, a week after the release of a state investigator’s report asserting that the official misused his public office and subjected women to sexual harassment.

The firing of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin deepened the public animus between him and Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jimmy Patronis, who sought Rubin’s ouster . The two have been sparring publicly over the sexual harassment allegations amid Rubin’s countercharges of blackmail, “pay-to-play” corruption and using the “Me Too” movement for political gain.

As the state’s chief financial regulator, Rubin was responsible for overseeing Florida’s financial services industry, including banks and check-cashing outlets.

Rubin declined to appear before the four-member Cabinet but dispatched his attorney to seek leniency. Lawyer Michael Tein, however, failed to persuade the officials to issue an official censure instead of a pink slip. Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Tein had sought “whistleblower” status for Rubin, which would have protected him against immediate dismissal.

But the outcome seemed like a foregone conclusion, as Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody joined Patronis in voting to dismiss Rubin and to launch a search for a replacement.

The fourth member of the Cabinet, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, walked out of the meeting chambers before the vote after seeking to postpone the decision. She said the matter was not properly noticed under the state’s open meeting rules.

“The bottom line is, I think there was clearly poor conduct and below the standards that we should expect,” DeSantis said afterward.

The Cabinet confirmed Rubin for the job in February, and he was suspended in May. Soon after, complaints began surfacing from some female employees about inappropriate statements and behavior. The report released last week by the Office of Financial Regulation’s inspector general detailed the accusations, including how Rubin allegedly recounted the sexual history of a family member and made a statement about his parents’ fertility.

Among the other complaints, Rubin allegedly asked a subordinate if the employee and spouse allow their dog to watch them have sex.

Other employees complained about being asked to do personal errands for Rubin and how Rubin allegedly equated bowties with being gay or Muslim.

Although Rubin has apologized for making some of his employees “uncomfortable,” his attorney said the incidents were purposely being mischaracterized far more salaciously than warranted.

“Just because someone feels uncomfortable, just because someone even doesn’t like their supervisor,” Tein told the Cabinet, “doesn’t mean that Ron Rubin gets fired, publicly humiliated and his reputation destroyed forever.”

As for allegations of sexual harassment, Tein alleged that the “Me Too” movement was being used as a political bludgeon.

“This is not about standing up for Me Too,” Tein said. “Me Too deserves real respect. Every woman in this room, every woman in Florida and in the workplace knows should never be weaponized for political purposes.”

After the Cabinet meeting, Tein said Rubin would press on with a suit filed last month against a lobbyist aligned with Patronis, who he said was part of a conspiracy to defame him and oust him from his state position. The lawsuit also alleges that Rubin’s 84-year-old father, a wealthy developer, had been asked to donate $1 million “as payback” for Patronis’ support of younger Rubin’s nomination to the state post.

Patronis had championed Rubin’s hiring, but Rubin alleges that their relationship further soured when he declined to hire a candidate Patronis backed.

Patronis has denied Rubin’s allegations.

At Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Patronis took responsibility for recommending Rubin for the job.

“It is clear a much deeper vetting process needed to take place,” Patronis said.


Follow Bobby Caina Calvan at http://twitter.com/bobbycalvan.

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