TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis and members of the state Cabinet on Monday named a Coral Gables securities lawyer to become Florida’s third top financial regulator in less than two years.
In a conference call lasting just over a minute, DeSantis recommended Russell Weigel for the job with a $166,000-a-year salary. DeSantis was backed by state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, while Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried abstained.
No comments were made on the selection of Weigel over Mike Hogan, a banker from Gainesville, and David Weintraub, a Plantation attorney who represents investors in cases against broker dealers.
Weigel will succeed former Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin, who was fired in July after allegations of sexual harassment.
After Monday’s conference call, Moody issued a statement that pointed to Weigel’s financial-services and legal experience, which she said, “will greatly benefit the state of Florida and help rebuild the Office of Financial Regulation.”
Fried, who walked out of the July Cabinet meeting before the vote to fire Rubin, issued a statement Monday expressing concerns over the search process and a lack of confidence in the finalists.
“I am glad that the Office of Financial Regulation will finally have leadership, but I wish this had been a more transparent process,” Fried said. “While I appreciate all applicants for the position, I am not confident that the most-qualified applicants were among the final candidates. Because of these concerns, I did not participate in today’s vote to appoint a new commissioner.”
Weigel’s application said he worked 11 years as a federal Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement attorney, serving in management, investigation and litigation roles.
In 2005, Weigel started a firm whose practice represents clients in a variety of securities-related issues.
“I have skin in the game in Florida, having lived and worked here for more than 30 years,” Weigel wrote in an Aug. 7 cover letter applying for the job. “I will land running.”
Rubin was hired in February to succeed former Commissioner Drew Breakspear, who resigned in June 2018 under pressure from Patronis. Just months later, however, Rubin was accused of sexual harassment and became embroiled in a high-profile dispute with Patronis.
DeSantis, Patronis and Moody ultimately decided to fire Rubin in July.
Rubin, who denied the harassment charges from an agency employee, has filed a lawsuit against a lobbyist with ties to Patronis and accused Patronis of running a “powerful but corrupt enterprise” that engages in “pay to play — or else” politics.
DeSantis and the Cabinet share oversight of the Office of Financial Regulation.
Fried didn’t object Monday when DeSantis proposed the salary for Weigel, which matches the salary Rubin received.
No start date has been set for Weigel, who is expected to move to Tallahassee.
Beau Beaubien, DeSantis’ director of Cabinet affairs, said after Monday’s conference call that he had recently touched base with all three finalists to ensure they remained interested in the position. DeSantis and the Cabinet interviewed the finalists on Oct. 22.
Fried, a Democrat, had been unsuccessful in repeated calls for DeSantis and the other Cabinet members, all Republicans, to name an interim leader for the Office of Financial Regulation. The agency has nearly 360 employees and oversees banks, credit unions, other financial institutions, finance companies and the securities industry.
In July, Fried argued that the vote to remove Rubin wasn’t properly noticed on the agenda. She later released a statement in which she agreed with the decision to remove Rubin.