The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics on Thursday unanimously approved a settlement with former Boynton Beach commissioner Marlene Ross, who faced two charges of corrupt misuse of official position.
Ross, who attended Thursday’s hearing, told commissioners she voluntarily agreed to the settlement. The first charge was dismissed and she must pay a $500 fine and accept a letter detailing the settlement for the second charge.
The vote came almost two months after the ethics commission postponed voting on the settlement because Commissioner Robin Fiore believed legal language in the settlement order did not reflect an admission from Ross of corrupt misuse of official position.
Fiore and other commissioners said that following the meeting in August, they consulted with a staff attorney about whether they should consider statements Ross made during an investigation by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office as part of her settlement.
“We all have yet to conclude conclusively whether or not the statement could be used,” Commissioner Daniel Galo said.
As a result, the commission agreed to the settlement originally proposed by Ross’ attorney, Scott Richardson, where Ross “admits that the allegations … if true, could reasonably create a perception of ‘corrupt’ intent.”
Ross thanked the commissioners for allowing her to present the settlement, but made no additional comments before the board.
Both Richardson and attorney Kai Li Fouts, who represents the ethics commission, agreed the county commission should approve the settlement.
“When it comes down to it, there could be litigation, it could be expensive, it could be time consuming, and no one knows what the results could be,” Richardson said. “And that’s why people go into negotiated settlements.”
The charges against Ross were filed in December, just hours after she resigned, accusing her of lying in a statement to Boynton Beach and casting a vote in hopes it would keep a political enemy from revealing she’d sent naked pictures of herself to her cousin.
In the proposed settlement, Ross states she “believes it to be in her best interest to avoid the expense and time of litigation in this matter.”
Ross, who served as a commissioner for five years, had admitted last year to Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office investigators that she feared lobbyist and former Boynton Beach City Commissioner David Katz was blackmailing her because he knew about pictures she’d sent to her first cousin, with whom she’d had a romantic relationship. Such a relationship is legal under Florida law.
Prosecutors — who had approached Ross after being alerted about the photos and possible blackmail — eventually concluded none of her allegations could be considered criminal extortion. Ross eventually quit cooperating, and the case was closed.
But in those depositions, and in a summary she wrote for prosecutors, Ross admitted she had submitted a falsified letter to the city saying Katz hadn’t lobbied her when in fact he had. She also said she appointed Katz to city committees twice against her judgment.