“If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” is one of those old adages that still ring true.
Now, thanks to a slow, cancerous spread of corruption, it looks like Florida is becoming a haven for white-collar tax evaders, and corrupt public officials who are all betting they can evade scrutiny for years. In many cases they are right.
This development is being largely ignored by snowbirds, new residents, retirees, partygoers, and people who want to just fish or take in the sun. But, behind the scenes, the state is setting some new low-points in its pattern of becoming the home to some very unsavory white-collar criminals who are attracted here to the low taxes, lax state scrutiny, and an increasing compliant number of public officials who will look the other way when the right incentives present themself.
Here are some examples of this, as reported by the exceptional reporting in Florida Bulldog:
- Serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein worked out a plea deal with South Florida federal prosecutors that was so outrageous, it set a new nadir in public corruption involving federal officials in Miami Dade County. The Florida Bulldog said, “Jeffrey Epstein’s cushy federal deal was the only one of its kind in South Florida for at least three decades.”
- ‘Probable cause’ found that Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan failed to disclose more than $1 million in income from cities his law firm represents.
- Broward Schools Superintendent, General Counsel indicted on corruption charges by a statewide grand jury.
- FBI investigating Broward Sheriff Tony for suspected bid-rigging, kickbacks in bleeding control kits deal.
- The Tallahassee First District Court of Appeal ruled in the second week of April that a 2018 victims’ privacy law applies to police officers. If the Florida Supreme Court reviews the opinion and agrees, it means that the public would never be allowed to see or hear any evidence of criminal police behavior.
- “The FBI is investigating Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony for suspected bid-rigging, fraud, and kickbacks stemming from BSO’s 2019 purchase of hundreds of bleeding control stations from a South Carolina company where Tony worked before becoming sheriff,” according to the Florida Bulldog.
- Forget about the separation of church and state. As the Gainesville Sun reports: “The Florida legislature is considering spending more than $110 million in the next fiscal year on vouchers for 15,000 students to attend private and religious schools. The numbers would rise in subsequent years based on increases in the student population.” This is just a payoff to charter schools, many of them Christian, that have modest credential standards.
- Then, there is the pathetic case of Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump buddy, who is being investigated by the Justice Department about his alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old. Even his fellow House Republicans are staying away from him on this issue; a clear indication that they know more about the allegations than they are saying in public.
This news about corruption charges is just from a few recent issues of the Florida Bulldog, so the list is much longer. But if you connect these allegations with the news that Trump has made Florida his official state of residence, along with recent home purchase by Sean Hannity and a slew of hedge fund and private equity executives, you have a nexus for some like-minded white-collar tax evaders who will continue to contribute to a corruptable Florida legislature that is already proven that it willfully disregards the will of the electorate.
Take the case of Florida referendums that passed and were then publicly disregarded or emasculated. This happened with the referendum to restore voting rights to persons convicted of felonies and a referendum to decriminalize cannabis and make it more readily available.
In both cases, Republicans in the Florida legislature did all they could to block or delay the implementation of these public votes.
In the case of restoring the voting right to felons, The Guardian newspaper summarized this anti-democratic move by Florida Republicans like this:
“In 2018,…64.5% of Floridians had voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to end the policy. More than 5.1 million people – more than voted for Ron DeSantis, the Republican elected governor that evening – were in favor of the measure. The referendum – often referred to as amendment 4 – was one of the most dramatic expansions of the right to vote in US history since the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. But more than a year and a half after amendment 4 went into effect, hundreds of thousands of people still remain blocked from voting.”
In short, the Republicans ignored the will of the people. The same is true of the cannabis decriminalization referendum that was initially held in 2016 and received a positive vote of 60%. But Republican legislators undercut voters’ intent. Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, but lawmakers banned smoking it and were losing a court battle over that interference until it was eventually signed into law.
Republican Obstructionism Encourages Corruption
Newcomers to Florida don’t realize the state was the third state to join the Confederacy in January 1861. If you move to Florida from New York, Massachusetts, or Illinois, you should remember that Florida is a Southern state. This means it has bought into the great lie that the Southern states that lost Civil War were involved in a “just cause.” That mass self-deception is still evident today.
What the Florida Bulldog and other media report about corruption in Florida is not new. From 2000 to 2010, Florida was the worst state in the union with the most federal public corruption convictions. A news item from Integrity Florida found that from 2003 to 2013 Florida had 622 convictions, behind California and Texas which had much larger populations.
A 2015 study by the Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics found that Florida hit a trifecta of corruption in:
- Illegal corruption is “moderately common” in Florida’s executive branch.
- Illegal corruption is “very common” in the state’s legislative branch.
- No state has a high ranking for illegal corruption in its judiciary.
A 2019 report found that Miami was the fifth most corrupt city in the US, according to a report from the University of Illinois at Chicago. And a 2021 study that looked at data from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to determine the number of public corruption convictions per 10,000 residents in all 50 states, found that Florida ranked 42nd out of 50 states.
Birds of a Feather
With Trump in Palm Beach, other similar high-flyers that benefit from tax loopholes, especially carried interest, and receive federal subsidies are also moving to Florida. The Wall Street Journal reports that David Tepper, Paul Tudor Jones, and Barry Sternlicht (all hedge fund moguls) are among the prominent transplants who have pulled up roots in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut in recent years for Florida” along with financier Carl Icahn.
The big reason is taxes. For average people, a major reason to move to Florida is affordability, but for the ultra-rich, it is to get the exemption for estate taxes, not income taxes. Trump’s cohorts are professional tax cheats. They spend millions o evade paying millions more in taxes.
Now, the Trump, DeSantis regime, and its Florida Republican legislature are working overtime to make it homier for the top 1% to feel safe here. Public protests are being outlawed, large gatherings will be monitored by the police, and as shown above, the legislature has even made it possible to hide the criminal behavior of Florida cops. It is now even legal to drive your car into a group of protestors and not be charged with anything. This means the death-cult Republicans in the Florida legislature has made hit-and-run legal.
So, is Florida the new home to white-collar criminals? You bet it is. And the snowbirds, retirees, and party-goers don’t even notice what’s happening.
CONTRIBUTE to the Florida Bulldog here.