NEW: State ethics body continues probe of suspended Boca mayor

A state ethics agency with the power to recommend an elected official’s removal from office continues to investigate suspended Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie even as she battles criminal charges, The Palm Beach Post has learned.

The Florida Commission on Ethics scheduled a private probable cause hearing in early September to assess allegations that Haynie violated state ethics laws. The hearing is open only to Haynie, her lawyer and the complainant, Al Zucaro, a Boca Raton lawyer who lost to Haynie in the 2017 mayoral election, according to a letter from the ethics commission describing the hearing.

Zucaro provided a copy of a letter — labeled “confidential” — to The Post.

A state ethics commission spokeswoman declined to confirm the investigation or the hearing. In general, investigations and hearings are private until the commission assesses the complaints, spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman said.

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The hearing is at 10 a.m., Friday Sept. 7 at the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, according to the letter.

Haynie’s criminal defense attorney Bruce Zimet and ethics attorney Mark Herron declined to comment on the hearing.

Under commission rules, Haynie, her lawyer and Zucaro “may attend” the hearing. Zucaro, who is running for Boca Raton mayor in the Aug. 28 special election, told The Post he will attend.

Haynie and her lawyer will have 10 minutes to plead her case. An ethics commission advocate will also have 10 minutes to speak.

“The sole purpose of the probable cause hearing is to evaluate the results of the preliminary investigation,” the letter reads.

Zucaro’s complaint accuses Haynie of failing to disclose income on mandatory financial disclosure forms filed annually with the state. The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office leveled the same allegation against Haynie, 62, charging her with four felonies and three misdemeanors of public corruption.

Some of the evidence the state attorney used against Haynie was gathered by a Florida Commission on Ethics investigator, according to Haynie’s charging documents.

For instance, Haynie is accused of perjury, or knowingly making a false statement under oath, for a comment she made during a recorded interview with state and county ethics investigators in January.

A state ethics investigator has been probing Haynie’s possible violations since at least August, according to emails, audio recordings and ethics records obtained by The Post.

The ethics agency, with its seven-member board, is tasked with assessing potential violations by elected and appointed officials and government employees. If the commission finds probable cause that an official violated the law, the board can recommend punishment to the governor, the ultimate decision-maker.

The penalty for failing to disclose information on state financial disclosure forms ranges from reprimand, to civil penalty, to removal from office, though the latter is rare, Stillman said.

Gov. Rick Scott suspended Haynie from office three days after she was criminally charged.

Looming over Haynie’s suspension from the Boca Raton City Council is the possibility that she’ll return. If she’s cleared of all criminal charges before her term expires in March 2020, Haynie can reclaim the mayor’s seat.

Still, city charter and state law gave the city no recourse but to elect a new mayor in Haynie’s absence, thus sparking the Aug. 28 special election, city officials said.

Even after voters elect a new mayor in August, that person can be forced from the seat if Haynie returns to office.

Zucaro, acting Mayor Scott Singer and real estate broker Bernard Korn are running for mayor. All three candidates have called on Haynie to resign.

Follow Boca Raton reporter Lulu Ramadan on Twitter at @luluramadan.

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