Boca Raton’s mayor and the ethics of hiding behind your spouse

I’ve got some free advice for Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie.

Abandon the “It’s not me; it’s my husband” defense.

It’s been done before. Doesn’t work.

Haynie got caught playing footsie with Boca’s biggest developer. Hey, it happens. This is Boca. Becoming the Kendall of Palm Beach County doesn’t just materialize by itself.

Nobody’s alleging she committed a crime. She just did something stupid. And sneaky.

And now she wants to move up to the Palm Beach County Commission, where the quota for stupid and sneaky has long been met.

This would be a good time for Haynie to wise up.

As a Palm Beach Post investigation by reporter Lulu Ramadan revealed, Haynie cast at least 12 votes that boosted the property value of projects owned by James and Marta Batmasian. And at the same time, the property management company that Haynie and her husband, Neil, started, Community Reliance, managed Tivoli Park.

And 1,400 of the 1,600 apartments in that Deerfield Beach complex are owned by the Batmasians, who also control its board of directors.

So that potentially gives the Batmasians some leverage on Boca’s mayor, which makes her role in approving their projects with the city problematic.

So the best thing for Haynie to do would be to recuse herself from Batmasian votes, or to at least to make her business ties to the Batmasians public knowledge before making those votes. And to report those ties on the financial disclosure forms she submits.

But Haynie didn’t do any of those things.

Instead, she got the city attorney to work over the County Commission on Ethics for five months to change its finding in order to give Haynie quasi-cover for her votes through a fishy, cryptic letter that kept her name and Batmasians from being publicly disclosed.

And then she belatedly removed her name from the property management company that her husband still controls, and has taken the position that whatever money the company continues to make from the Batmasians has nothing to do with her.

Because it’s her husband’s money. Not hers. They have separate bank accounts, she says.

Oh, brother. We’ve heard that line before.

I believe in these parts, that’s known as “The Full Masilotti.”

More than a decade ago, Tony Masilotti, the former chairman of the Palm Beach County Commission, pioneered the idea that you can do all sorts of interesting things with developers as long as you put it all in your spouse’s name.

On paper, Masilotti’s wife, Susan, made a cool $1.3 million through a secret land trust and a complicated set of real estate transactions that involved a big landholder in Tony’s district.

The Palm Beach Post reported the fortune his wife had made while being a stay-at-home mom with a $39,000-a-year no-show job at Tony’s insurance company, and investigators suspected that the county commissioner was hiding his real-estate machinations behind his wife.

But Tony said he had nothing to do with the ownership of the property in question.

“It is owned solely by a trust of which Susan Masilotti is the beneficiary, which to my understanding is a completely legal and accepted practice to conserve and protect personal assets,” he said. “She is a private citizen and enjoys the same rights to invest her money as any other American.”

Well, not so much.

Months later, Tony Masilotti pleaded guilty to honest services fraud and began serving a 37-month stretch in federal prison.

Maybe Haynie has a short memory. This may have slipped her mind while she was trying to remove her fingerprints from the family business.

But I don’t think the separate-bank-account gambit is going to work much longer to preserve her role as a friendly Batmasian vote.

It’s time to make her marriage — for richer or poorer — whole again.

At the risk of sounding like Tammy Wynette, it may be time for Haynie to stand by her man.

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