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Florida ethics committee finds probable cause against Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh

An ethics complaint accuses Baugh of creating a vaccine "VIP list" and adding her name to the list.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Probable cause has been found in an ethics complaint against Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh in regards to her role in creating a vaccine "VIP list" and adding her name to it.

The complaint accuses Baugh of selecting two specific ZIP codes for the pop-up vaccination site and asking for herself and four others to be added to the list of those being inoculated. It's an act the commissioner admitted to herself.

Her request, which was sent to Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur, included asking for vaccination slots for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen and Lawrence Jensen, who do not live in the designated ZIP codes, and Robert and Marie Keehn, who live near Baugh.

The Florida Commission on Ethics found there was probable cause that Baugh abused her office to "obtain a disproportionate benefit by placing her own name at the top of Manatee County's randomly selected list of recipients to receive a COVID-19 vaccination." 

"In addition, probable cause was found to believe Ms. Baugh misused her position or public resources to assign vaccine distribution priority to serve specific individuals and zip codes, contrary to Manatee County's COVID-19 vaccination policy," the commission added.

Baugh previously expressed remorse over her actions saying, “I want to apologize to all the residents who I have disappointed in any action that I’ve taken according to some news outlets."

Individuals angered by the action of placing a vaccination site at one of Manatee County's wealthier and predominantly white communities called for her resignation. 

In June, a four-month-long investigation conducted by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office found Baugh committed no crimes in creating the list and adding her own name. 

In response to the ethics commission's decision, Baugh's lawyer, George Levesque, said the commissioner has not been sentenced for any crime. Rather, it allows the ethics complaint to move to the next phase of the process.

"We look forward to this next phase of the proceedings to bring truth and perspective to the allegations and to demonstrate that Commissioner Baugh did not violate any law and did not violate any of her ethical obligations to her constituents," Levesque said in a statement.

So, what's next? The complaint will once again head to the committee at a later date. At that time, members must decide if the law was violated and what the appropriate punishment is. 

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