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Sheriff Manfre Ethics Case: In Eviscerating Language, Judge Recommends $6,200 Fine, Public Reprimand and Censure

| February 16, 2016

jim manfre ethics violations

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre says he will continue to contest findings against him regarding alleged ethics violations. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 6:31 p.m.

An administrative law judge today found that Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre violated Florida’s ethics laws on two of three counts with regard to a series of allegations that the sheriff misused his position early in his current tenure.

The judge is recommending a fine of $6,800, substantially less than the Florida Ethics Commission advocate’s recommendation of $19,000. But the judge is also recommending a public reprimand and a public censure of Manfre by the ethics commission, at an open meeting. That, possibly more than the fine, would stain Manfre’s image with a taint of corruption in the thick of his re-election campaign while giving his opponents ammunition chambered and ready to fire.

In a startling pivot from previous vows to fight on, Manfre, in an statement issued at 6 p.m. today, said he will no longer fight the case. “As long as the ethics commission follows the ALJ’s current recommendation,” he said, referring to the Administrative Law Judge, “I have no intention of appealing this decision as it is now time to put this behind us and refocus on keeping our community safe and secure for all who live, work and vacation in Flagler County.”

Administrative Law Judge Suzanne van Wyk based her recommended order on proceedings before her, a hearing held on Dec. 3 in Tallahassee, following an earlier decision by the ethics commission in July that found him in violation of ethics laws on three counts. Manfre requested the hearing before van Wyk. Van Wyk’s recommendation must still be ratified by the ethics commission. In the meantime, Manfre has the right to appeal the recommendation to the District Court of Appeal before it ends up before the ethics commission.

Last week in a brief interview, Manfre said if the judgment came down against him, he would do just that: appeal. He has maintained that while he committed some misjudgments, he violated no policies or laws. He blamed the missteps on a lack of clarity in the sheriff’s office’s policies and procedures–or the lack of policies–while also blaming others at the agency for giving him poor counsel. He says he has since clarified or instituted new policies to ensure against such missteps.

“I have no intention of appealing this decision as it is now time to put this behind us,” Sheriff Manfre says.

Manfre, in the most contrite words he’s used so far in the ethics matter, apologized today to citizens and sheriff’s employees “for making poor decisions as it relates to these incidents in my first few months in office and ask for your forgiveness.” He said the judge’s recommendation shows there was never a corrupt intent in his misjudgments.

But the lawyer in him still could not resist a rejoinder: “This ethics process has been all over the place. Initially, the commission’s advocate recommended a negotiated agreement where I could have agreed to an improper car use and dismiss the other two allegations. A fine of $1,500 was suggested. Then we had the advocate’s most recent recommendation of three charges and a fine of $19,000. Now a recommendation is for the opposite: The ALJ has found violations of the issues they wanted to dismiss and found no violation in the use of the car. The ALJ’s recommendation is now a fine of $6,200 and public censure.”

The ethics case was filed by Linda Bolante, Manfre’s former finance director, after she was pushed out of the agency in 2013. Bolante has also filed a whistleblower suit in circuit court, which is ongoing.

Judge van Wyk found that Manfre misused agency-issued credit cards to pay for bills at hotels in Washington, D.C., on Marco Island and in Orlando, enabling him to exceed the per diem allowance for public officials or employees established by Florida law. “The totality of the evidence proved, clearly and convincingly, that [Manfre] acted with reasonable notice that his conduct was inconsistent with the proper performance of his public duties. There was no legitimate public purpose for charging meals exceeding the per diem rate,” the judge found, citing the various instances.

Manfre's Ethics:
The Documents

The judge, in language eviscerating Manfre’s version of events, also found that Manfre improperly accepted a gift from his then-Undersheriff Rick Staly when Manfre accepted to stay nights at Staly’s cabin in Tennessee. Manfre reported the gift eight months late, the judge found, and reported it as the equivalent of $44 a night, though it was valued at $430 a night. Manfre also admitted at the final hearing that he’d done so because, in his words–as quoted in the judge’s recommended order–“$44 sounds better than the $430, or a $1,200 gift.”

At that hearing Manfre had claimed that it had not been a reportable gift because he and his wife never stayed at the cabin on two consecutive nights, but rather “we left one day and came back again.”
The judge termed that a “newly-contrived theory,” declared Manfre’s explanation “simply not credible,” then suggested that Manfre lied under oath in what amounts to the most damaging revelation of the 29-page order: Manfre, the judge wrote, “provided no details as to which nights between May 3 and May 7, 2013, [Manfre] and his wife stayed in the cabin, or where they stayed when they were not in the cabin. Further, the disclosure form, which [Manfre] signed, under oath, indicated [Manfre] stayed three consecutive nights—May 3 to May 6, 2013. […] In the end, [Manfre] claimed that he filed the Form 9 on May 27, 2014, only ‘because it became an issue’ and ‘in an abundance of caution.’ Apparently, not even [Manfre] believed the disclosure that he made under oath was accurate.”

For all that, the judge’s recommendation is not an unmitigated setback for Manfre. The judge found that one of the charges against him, that he misused sheriff’s office vehicles by taking them out of state, does not stand. The ethics commission advocate “did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that [Manfre] acted with corrupt intent with regard to use of the FCSO vehicles.” The judge also found that in the case of one hotel bill (in Tallahassee in May 2014), it was clear that Manfre intended to settle the charges on his personal card, but that due to a clerical error, the charge was placed on his agency-issued card.

18 Responses for “Sheriff Manfre Ethics Case: In Eviscerating Language, Judge Recommends $6,200 Fine, Public Reprimand and Censure”

  1. David S says:

    No more of this please voted for him before not again.

  2. BIG JOHN says:

    if he broke the law he should be indicted for a crime.

  3. Marc says:

    I am curious, who pays the bills for all these hearings, Manfre or We the People?

  4. r&r says:

    What ever the fine ends up being we the tax payers are going to foot the bill.

  5. OldSeaDog says:

    Hmmmmmn–the lawyer who is Sheriff does not like the ruling of a JUDGE.
    (Is not that the usual case in Courts when the losing lawyer of a trial protests?)

    GOD Bless our Judicial System

  6. Dean Carpenter says:

    Seems to me we have a pretty clean county but I live a pretty clean life.. I haven’t seen or heard of any large scale activities like gambling, prostitution, drugs or theft that usually indicates collusion. How about it Flagler Live? Anything we need to know?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Dean, current law notwithstanding, editorially we do not consider gambling, prostitution or drugs to be criminal offenses or the business of cops and courts. As with reporting, cops and courts should focus their limited resources on actual harms rather than comstockery.

  7. CL says:

    A cabin in Tennessee being $430 a night? I call BS, having lived in northern Georgia for many years and knowing the value of ‘cabins’ in both Ga. and Tennessee. $44 is MORE like it.
    So this happened when he was first elected too? Hmmmm. I know he’s a democrat, and it seems that the tea bagger republicans who are encased here are out for blood for any democrat. How dare the director of elections ‘record’ shady dealings and lies of republicans, eh? Now your precious republicans are wanting to bring you polluting toxic fracking to Florida and your area, and make it so NO city or country could stop them. It’s time to kick OUT a BUNCH of republicans from power here. We have a surplus of oil right now and no where to store it. What the heck is it with the drill-baby-drillers in THIS tourist-enriched state? Fracking and crap like that will destroy the tourist industry. Looks like some major shady money changed hands with republicans in the legislature.


    We need a fresh face at the sheriff’s office. No more Manfre or Fleming and all of there corruption . John lamb looks to be the guy we need check him out.

  9. Heading North says:

    Election time is coming people of Flagler County — please,please get rid of this guy and get a real police administrator in there before the whole county goes broke and he walks away laughing with full pockets!!!

  10. Layla says:

    This so called Sheriff willingly broke the law and he knew it, he just didn’t care. I’m sorry, but until criminal charges are brought to this case, this man is NOT to be trusted with his job.

    He needs to step down or be removed as Sheriff. It is as simple as that. Break the law, GO TO JAIL.

  11. Outsider says:

    CL: Seriously? I work for one of the most well-known companies in America and if I so much as leave a candy bar on my hotel bill I get a nasty gram and a request for immediate reimbursement via check. Any official with corporate or public service background knows you don’t drive a company vehicle halfway across the country for personal business. Getting involved in an accident while doing so and then covering it up would be grounds for immediate dismissal. If your car is in the shop, you can’t steal the boss’s car, you get a rental car. The only one to blame here is the guy in the picture above, who we will now probably have to provide a pension for the rest of his life. Please at least stay remotely on topic, which must be hard to do as a Manfre sycophant.

  12. alp says:

    An administrative law judge is a hired, appointed lawyer who can be fired at will by the powers that be in Florida’s upper echelon. I would wait to see if the decision is appealed and goes to real judges before making any quick condemnations.

  13. Tired the past and current sheriff says:

    This is why we need someone new and still an active law enforcement officer. Manfre never was a police officer, staly is a product of manfre, Fleming had ethic issues too, one candidate only cares about the jail and not about the Dept and community and the other candidate is just in for the ride. I’m voting Chris Yates for Sheriff. I have not seen anything about this candidate to discredit his ability to do the job for us here in flagler county. Do some researching on him flagler families, he is legit and what flagler county needs

  14. 30 year cop says:

    The cabin involved is owned by Sheriff Candidate Rick Staly, who was Manfre’s Undersheriff. The same Rick Staly that was a Democrat for about 15 years, then a Republican for 2 years, moved to Flagler as a Democrat and stayed as such for about 5 years. The same Rick Staly that allowed meals for he and his wife to be put by Manfre on the County Credit Card. The same Rick Staly that was demoted in Orange County for selling vitamins while wearing his uniform and for his personal indiscrepancies. The same Rick Staly who stood arm & arm with Manfre for 2 years. If you don’t like Manfre, please vote him out but don’t put in his partner in crime, Staly.

  15. Common Sense says:

    Seems unethical that a fine of $19k was being reduced to under $7,000. I certainly hope when this goes before the Ethics Board that they do not allow this fine to be reduced so drastically. This elected official never admitted he misused his position and conducted himself in an unethical manner. He cannot shift his responsibility. He is an attorney, and need not throw the blame on any of his staff. No one should have to remind him of common sense. He did what he did, he should have owned it from the start, and because he did not, he drew more attention to himself and therefore deserves the punishment he gets. Dragging this out was not wise for a political election campaign he is engaged in, nor was it beneficial for the tax payers who have most likely been flipping the bill. Please tell us how much tax dollars has been spent by Manfre defending himself. Please also tell us how much he has spent out of pocket. Any of our tax dollars should be reimbursed. Also, please tell us why Manfre has all the sudden decided to not continue to fight this. The $19k fine is still a slap on the had considering he is paid over $130k a year.

  16. 30 year Cop says:,533582&hl=en

    In 1977 Rick Staly fired a Deputy for growing marijuana at his home. Sounds good, right? The Deputy was hired by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office after receiving a Pardon for fraud and conspiracy. The Deputy was hired over other applicants, why? Because Rick Staly authorized the hiring at the request of a friend, even though Staly did not even know the hired Deputy. Staly’s response, ” We made a mistake in that we did not link the time line the growing marijuana and the pardon”. “Had it been linked he never would have been hired”.
    So who will Rick Staly authorize to be hired in Flagler County should he win?

  17. footballen says:

    Only in Flagler County.

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