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Columbia County Observer

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Florida Commission On Ethics: Some Though It Figured, Ethics Commissioner Freddie Figgers Gets a Free Pass – 'Go Figure'

Florida Commission on Ethics: decision made
Photo: Tumisu via Pixabay | Columbia County Observer graphic

TALLAHASSEE, FL – On April 19, the Florida Commission on Ethics voted 4-1 to erase a $1,500 fine assessed against one of its own, Commissioner Freddie Figgers. The Commission avoided a requirement that it investigate Figgers to determine whether his failure to file was willful. The penalty for willfully failing to file disclosure is removal from public office.

The Commission majority, unconcerned about the public’s perception of giving a free pass to a colleague, determined that “unusual circumstances” over which Figgers had no control prevented him from filing.

Commission Chair Ashley Lukis, Vice Chair Michelle Anchors, and Commissioners Luis Fuste and Wengay Newton Sr. voted in the majority. Commissioner Tina Descovich was absent. Figgers, a Fort Lauderdale businessman, abstained and left the room while the matter was discussed.

Bill Cervone
Former State Attorney Bill Cervone. Photo: WCJB

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Commissioner Bill Cervone, who served as the elected State Attorney for the Eighth Circuit in Gainesville from 2000-2020.

“To paraphrase what I said during the meeting, I don’t believe that the explanation offered constitutes an unusual circumstance, that it is the filer’s responsibility to be timely and that the Commission website can always be checked to verify receipt, and that as an analogy I’m pretty sure the IRS would not accept, ‘I thought someone else took care of it’ as a valid excuse for not filing a tax return on time,” Cervone told Florida Bulldog.


Steven Zuilkowski
General Counsel and Deputy Executive Director Steve Zuilkowski made the case to look the other way.

Steven Zuilkowski, the Commission's dual-titled general counsel and deputy executive director – thought differently. He prepared and presented to the Commission his proposal that Figgers's appeal of his $1,500 fine be granted and his fine waived. Not once did he address how the public might perceive that or how it might further diminish the Commission's already tattered reputation.

According to the Ethics Commission’s website, “financial disclosure is required of public officials and employees because it enables the public to evaluate potential conflicts of interest, deters corruption, and increases public confidence in government.”

But general counsel Zuilkowski seemed not to get that. He began his argument by comparing the failure of public officials to file financial disclosure to getting “a speeding ticket.”

He did note that the Commission doesn’t investigate appeals because it does not have that authority. “The Commission simply evaluates the information provided [by Figgers] and determines whether the filing was prevented by an unusual circumstance.”

So, Zuilkowski simply bought Figgers’s tale of woe as Florida Bulldog first reported on April 10. (Florida Commission On Ethics Set To Cancel $1,500 Fine For One Of Its Own). In short, Figgers’s financial disclosure form for 2021 was due on July 1, 2022. Penalties of $25 a day began accruing after Sept. 1, 2022. The fine maxed out at $1,500 two months later.

Figgers was required to file because in 2021 he served on the board of directors of Enterprise Florida, which was dissolved by law at the end of May 2023. He was appointed to that post and a two-year term on the Ethics Commission in July 2023 by Gov. Ron DeSantis.


Freddie Figgers
Freddie Figgers via FB

The Commission sent Figgers several notices in the summer of 2022 that his filing was past due, including a certified letter signed for by a person at Figgers’s office building whose signature was indecipherable.

In his appeal, Figgers would later tell the Commission that he never received those notices and blamed "the unique challenges presented by the shared mailroom" at his office building.

On Sept. 13, 2022, another notice went out informing Figgers that fines had begun to accrue.

Six days later, Figgers emailed Katie Richardson, an Enterprise Florida employee who he said assisted members of the board of directors in filing financial disclosure. He told her he thought "this was taken care of." Richardson then emailed the Ethics Commission the same day, asking, "Will you please let Freddie and I know what we're missing on this? We both thought this was taken care of." On Sept. 21, a Commission staffer left Richardson a voicemail requesting a callback.

Neither Figgers nor Richardson responded then or again in early October when the Commission staffer emailed Richardson again about Figgers’s failure to file.

More months pass.

On Dec. 8, the Commission sent Figgers and Richardson yet another notice and informed them that the fine had reached $1,500. On Dec. 12, Figgers emailed the Commission and Richardson: “Hello, I am following up…this was taken care of?’’ A Commission staffer replied quickly that his 2021 disclosure still had not been received. She also called and spoke with Figgers.

Again, nothing.


Seven months later, Figgers could no longer do anything. On July 27, DeSantis appointed him to the Ethics Commission. The governor's office apparently never bothered to check Figgers out in advance with the Ethics Commission – yet another embarrassing lack of vetting by the governor's office. (For example, DeSantis appointed Gregory Tony as Broward's sheriff in 2019 without knowing he'd been arrested for murder as a juvenile in Philadelphia).

The next day, Figgers filed his 2021 disclosure form in person after arriving in Tallahassee to attend his first meeting as an Ethics commissioner. For good measure, he tossed in his disclosure form for 2022 on the same day Commission records show.

In his appeal, Figgers told the Commission he remembered signing the disclosure form and giving it to Richardson to mail. That explanation was good enough for Zuilkowski to bestow dispensation upon Figgers.

“By using the same process to file the form that he had in years past, Commissioner Figgers took steps reasonably calculated to achieve the successful filing of his form. But it appears that something unusual happened here, something inconsistent with prior years that prevented the filing of the form,” Zuilkowski told the Commission.

Not exactly. It wasn’t “years” past. It was one year past, for 2020. The form was filed two weeks late on July 14, 2021, ethics records show, during a grace period when no fines are assessed.

Moreover, Zuilkowski never publicly asked why Figgers never bothered to file his 2021 form after he knew the Commission had never received it.

Forida Ethics Commission
Florida Ethics Commission on the day of its decision: From left to right: Bill Cervone, Freddie Figgers, Michelle Anchors, Ashley Lucas, Executive Director Kerrie Stillman, Luis Fuste and Wengay Newton Sr.


In an attempt to prop up his let-‘em-go argument with precedent, Zuilkowski cited a flawed 2020 Commission decision that granted a fine waiver to Alexander Patterson Johns, a member of the Florida State Fair Authority, for the same offense.

“In Johns, the appellant filled out his financial disclosure form and gave it to another person to mail, but the financial form did not arrive at the Commission,” Zuilkowski wrote in the final order the Commission adopted. “Here, as was true in Johns, Appellant’s explanation is credible and undisputed by any evidence available to the Commission on Ethics.”

Vice chair Michelle Anchors, while ultimately going along with Zuilkowski’s recommendation, seemed nervous about what was happening and sought cover before the vote.

“I assume by your recommendation, but I’d like you to confirm it orally, that your recommendation that this fine be waived is consistent, in as much as we can be, in understanding comparison like circumstances in the law with respect to the definition of unusual circumstances,” Anchors asked.

"I have zero heartburn about the recommendation I'm making here," said Zuilkowski. "I think historically I've proven I wouldn't put the interest of one of our commissioners before, and you know, and recommend to five of you that you do something that is suspect. You know, I feel like there's precedent out there for this decision. I feel like we've done other…final orders similarly here. I don't feel like this is an outlier in any way to what this Commission has historically done."

That’s nice, Steven.

Meanwhile, you’ve given a large bottle of Mylanta to every public official in the state who doesn’t want to timely file financial disclosure, for whatever reason. All they have to do is say, “Gee whiz, I don’t know what happened. I gave it to [insert scapegoat] to mail.”

This year’s forms are due July 1, 2024.


On April 30, 2024, Eileen Morileau wrote:

“What is the purpose of filing disclosure forms?

Financial disclosure is required of public officials and employees because it enables the public to evaluate potential conflicts of interest, deters corruption, and increases public confidence in government.”

Is there any hope for our country with these people who preach doing it the right way to OTHERS, but never themselves. We are truly in hot water !!

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License and may be republished.

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