TALLAHASSEE — Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is pushing to fire the state’s top financial regulator, who was suspended amid a sexual harassment investigation, at the next Cabinet meeting.
Patronis’ request to consider the termination of Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin at the July 25 meeting was made Thursday, as allegations of misconduct have been levied against both Patronis and the man he once encouraged his Cabinet colleagues to hire.
The request, from Patronis’ Director of Cabinet Affairs Robert Tornillo to other Cabinet aides, accused Rubin of “alleged retaliatory tactics” following his suspension by Patronis. The chief financial regulator removed Rubin from his post on May 10, after an employee accused the insurance regulator of harassment.
“Mr. Rubin and his associates have publicly disparaged victims, and CFO Patronis is concerned of potential retaliation against victims and possibly other OFR employees,” Tornillo wrote in an email. Patronis’ office released the email to the press on Thursday.
“Based on these facts, Mr. Rubin should not continue to receive a more than $13,000 monthly salary at the taxpayers’ expense,” Tornillo added.
Tornillo also pointed to an on-going inspector general’s investigation into the harassment charges against Rubin.
The proposal to fire Rubin comes a little more than three weeks after Rubin filed a lawsuit against a Tallahassee lobbyist in which Rubin accused Patronis of running “pay to play — or else” politics out of his office.
Rubin has strongly denied the harassment allegation and has refused to resign. His lawyer, Michael Tein of Miami, declined to comment on Thursday.
In the request to place the proposed firing of Rubin on the Cabinet’s July 25 agenda, Patronis also wants Gov. Ron DeSantis and the other Cabinet members — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Attorney General Ashley Moody — to appoint an interim commissioner and set up the process to name a permanent replacement.
Fried, the only Democrat on the Cabinet, backed Patronis after the harassment allegations against Rubin were announced by Patronis in May.
Moody has called the sexual-harassment accusation troubling. DeSantis has said action will occur swiftly, once the inspector general investigation is completed.
DeSantis and the Cabinet hired Rubin in February, with strong backing from Patronis.
But the sexual harassment complaint — and Patronis’ handling of it — has exposed a deep rift between the insurance regulator, the chief financial officer and powerful insurance-industry lobbyist Paul Mitchell, who once recruited Rubin but has since become his nemesis.
The state employee who filed the complaint against Rubin has asked Moody to investigate Patronis for his handling of the complaint. Patronis released a redacted version of the complaint to the media, and publicly stated that there were “troubling allegations in a sexual harassment complaint.”
The employee’s lawyer, Tiffany Cruz, said that “there can be no dispute that the release of this complaint, even redacted, is a knowing and willful violation of Florida Statutes and should be investigated.”
Moody made the request for an investigation part of the inspector general review, which has no timeline to be completed.
In the complaint, the employee said Rubin took her to lunch on April 30 and brought her to his nearby downtown condo to see recent renovations. Inside, Rubin told the employee to remove her shoes so as not to track dust inside. Rubin also removed his shoes before they viewed the condo.
The complaint said the employee felt the situation was “awkward” and “uncomfortable.” After the lunch, the employee started to avoid Rubin and was moved to a different job, at her request.
Rubin, meanwhile, also requested that Moody investigate Patronis, as part of a lawsuit filed last month by Tein.
The 33-page complaint filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court alleges conspiracy and defamation and was directed against Mitchell, considered a strong ally of Patronis.
The lawsuit, highlighting text messages, claims Rubin’s father, a wealthy developer, repeatedly refused pressure to make a $1 million political donation for his son’s hiring.
It also contends that Patronis and his inner circle, which includes Mitchell, employ public humiliation and defamatory allegations to replace outsiders who “might expose their unlawful activities.”
Mitchell has described Rubin’s account of events as “largely fictional” and “self-serving.”
The Office of Financial Regulation, which oversees state-chartered financial institutions, securities firms, finance companies, money-service businesses and debt collectors, has an operating budget of about $41 million a year and nearly 360 employees.