TAMPA, Florida – Mayor Bob Buckhorn will answer the state’s questions this week about alleged ethics violations, 18 months after 10Investigates first exposed how close his political ally and volunteer advisor, Beth Leytham, had gotten to official government business.
Last week, Hillsborough County commissioners Sandy Murman and Ken Hagan interviewed with the Florida Commission on Ethics for similar allegations after a series of citizens filed complaints approximately two months after the September 2015 investigative series aired.
Leytham provided free political advice to her friends, but also received lucrative government contracts. 10Investigates revealed how Buckhorn, Murman, and Hagan were all in frequent communication with Leytham just prior to her team landing a $1.35 million contract for the ill-fated Go Hillsborough transportation initiative.
Text messages obtained by 10Investigates added additional fuel to the fire of the officials’ critics, suggesting Leytham was acting in a lobbying role, but never registering in compliance with local ordinances. She denied acting as a lobbyist at the time, but has since registered several times when visiting local politicians on behalf of various clients.
The 10Investigates series prompted changes to local lobbying, ethics, and public records policies to avoid future incidents – or the appearance – of insider dealings.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted a criminal investigation into the procurement of the Go Hillsborough contract, and while then-State Attorney Mark Ober concluded there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges, he also concluded that Murman – and possibly other officials – likely broke state law by deleting government-related text messages.
Hagan told 10Investigates in 2015 he deletes some of his text messages because they did not have to do with official government business. In 2017, he admitted he wasn’t following the county’s new text message policies either, using his private cell phone to discuss county issues. He said “I need to do a better job of using the county phone.”
The state ethics commission won’t be investigating criminal complaints, but alleged “quid pro quo” violations in ethics laws, Commissioner Murman confirmed to 10Investigates Monday. A spokesperson for Mayor Buckhorn confirmed his participation in the interviews, while Commissioner Hagan did not return request for comment Monday.
The public could find out if the Commission on Ethics found sufficiency for any further investigation or discipline ahead of its next meeting on April 21.