Suspended financial regulator seeks whistleblower status

Florida's suspended top financial regulator has applied for whistleblower status, claiming he's being retaliated against by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Patronis is trying to get Gov. Ron DeSantis and the other Florida Cabinet members to fire Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin at the next Cabinet meeting.

A still-sealed investigation into an employee's harassment charge against Rubin was delivered Monday by Office of Financial Regulation Inspector General Bradley Perry to the offices of DeSantis and the members of the Cabinet --- Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Patronis --- Rubin's lawyer, Michael Tein told The News Service of Florida Tuesday.

Jamie Mongiovi, spokeswoman for the Office of Financial Regulation, said the investigation remains active and that Perry has requested the findings remain confidential until a final determination on the probe is made by DeSantis and the Cabinet.

Tein dropped off the letter requesting whistleblower protection for his client, Rubin, two days before Cabinet aides are scheduled to meet Wednesday. The aides are slated to discuss placing Patronis' request to have Rubin terminated on the July 25 Cabinet agenda.

Tein's letter notes that Patronis' attempt to include Rubin's termination on the agenda came after Rubin filed whistleblower complaints with Perry and the state's chief inspector general.

"Thus, Mr. Patronis' recent demand to terminate Rubin's employment at the next Cabinet meeting is unlawful retaliation for Rubin's complaints, which are absolutely protected under Florida's Whistleblower Act," the letter from Tein states.

As of Tuesday evening, the agenda for the Cabinet meeting had not yet been posted online.

Asked if Patronis' request to fire Rubin would go forward, DeSantis' spokeswoman Helen Ferre said in an email Tuesday that "the Cabinet meeting has been noticed and will take place next week as will the aides meeting Wednesday."

Ferre said she could not address items that may be included in the agenda.

Representatives for Moody and Fried didn't immediately respond to requests for comment late Tuesday. Patronis' office also didn't immediately respond.

In a memo to other Cabinet aides last week, Patronis' Director of Cabinet Affairs Robert Tornillo accused Rubin of "alleged retaliatory tactics" following his suspension by Patronis.

The chief financial officer removed Rubin from his post on May 10, after an employee accused the insurance regulator of harassment.

"Mr. Rubin and his associates have publicly disparaged victims, and CFO Patronis is concerned of potential retaliation against victims and possibly other OFR employees," Tornillo wrote in an email released to the press on Thursday.

Patronis' request for Rubin to be fired also follows a lawsuit Rubin filed last month against prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Paul Mitchell, in which Rubin accused Patronis of running "pay to play --- or else" politics out of his office.

Fried, the only Democrat on the Cabinet, quickly backed Patronis after he announced the harassment allegations against Rubin in May.

But, when asked Friday if she still backed Patronis' call to permanently remove Rubin, Fried's spokesman Max Flugrath said in an email: "We're going to decline to comment at this time."

DeSantis and the Cabinet hired Rubin in February, with strong backing from Patronis.

But the sexual harassment complaint --- and Patronis' handling of it --- has exposed a deep rift between Rubin, the chief financial officer and Mitchell, a powerful insurance-industry lobbyist who once recruited Rubin but has since become his nemesis.

The state employee who filed the complaint against Rubin has asked Moody to investigate Patronis for his handling of the complaint. Patronis released a redacted version of the complaint to the media, and publicly stated that the sexual harassment complaint included "troubling allegations."

The employee's lawyer, Tiffany Cruz, said "there can be no dispute that the release of this complaint, even redacted, is a knowing and willful violation of Florida Statutes and should be investigated."

In the complaint, the employee said Rubin took her to lunch on April 30 and brought her to his nearby downtown condo to see recent renovations. Inside, Rubin told the employee to remove her shoes so as not to track dust inside. Rubin also removed his shoes before they viewed the condo.

The complaint said the employee felt the situation was "awkward" and "uncomfortable."

After the lunch, the employee started to avoid Rubin and was moved to a different job, at her request.

Rubin, meanwhile, also requested that Moody investigate Patronis, as part of a lawsuit filed last month by Tein.

Rubin's complaint alleges conspiracy and defamation and was directed against Mitchell.

The lawsuit, highlighting text messages, claims Rubin's father, a wealthy developer, repeatedly refused pressure to make a $1 million political donation for his son's hiring.

It also contends that Patronis and his inner circle, which includes Mitchell, employ public humiliation and defamatory allegations to replace outsiders who "might expose their unlawful activities."

Mitchell has described Rubin's account of events as "largely fictional" and "self-serving."

The Office of Financial Regulation, which oversees state-chartered financial institutions, securities firms, finance companies, money-service businesses and debt collectors, has an operating budget of about $41 million a year and nearly 360 employees.