Governor Ron DeSantis’ office comes under fire from defenders of Florida’s open government laws after an investigation published by Alleged News 6 that staff intervened in the outlet’s public records request into former state official Halsey Beshears’ financial records, delaying their release by two months.
In documents obtained by News 6, the outlet was able to confirm that the financial records of Mr. Beshears, a figure who has been flagged by Politico as being linked to Matt Gaetz and the federal agency that allegedly investigated him for sex trafficking of children, have been preserved. subject to secondary “review” by the governor’s office.
Since the investigation into Mr. Gaetz began last year, neither he nor Mr. Beshears, who both served together in the Florida legislature, have been charged with any crimes, while both continue to deny any wrongdoing.
Most recently, Mr. Gaetz told an audience CPAC participants that he equates the Ministry of Justice, the body in charge of the investigation, with “cheaters” in the same way as the Russian Olympic team.
Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) had, according to the news outlet, actually prepared Mr. Beshears’ financial records within days of receiving the April 15, 2021 request. Some records, they reported from the emails they obtained, were compiled within hours of the request arriving on the department’s desk.
The records, instead of going immediately to the requesting news agency, were forwarded to the governor’s office on May 4, 2021 for “secondary review,” where they remained for the next two months.
In response to the New 6 report, the governor’s office told the outlet that the governor has the authority to review these records when “the record includes communications with the governor’s executive office, because the record involves the governor. , or because there is reason to believe the Governor might be questioned about information in the file,” News 6 reported.
The governor’s press secretary, Bryan Griffin, who The Independent contacted for comment but had not heard back at press time, told News 6 that: ‘Consistent with the governor’s duty to ensure laws are faithfully enforced, the governor’s executive office may review the matter. to ensure accuracy and correctness of record production.
According to Attorney General Ashley, delivering public records requests such as these “promptly” as they are prepared is a practice enshrined in Florida’s Sunshine Manual, a guide that “helps citizens navigate the Florida public records laws and to access government meetings”. Moody, who maintains the document.
Although the guide does not give a specific time frame for the delivery of documents, it does indicate that “delay in making public documents available is permitted in very limited circumstances”, and the type of limited circumstances permitted by the law of the state understands the “reasonable amount of time” it would take “for the custodian to retrieve the record and remove those parts of the record that the custodian believes are exempt.”
The News 6 report argues that the governor’s office intervening in the release of the requested records does not fall under this very specific definition of delayed release of records under Florida’s Public Record Act.
When officials or agencies delay the release of documents, the manual goes on to explain that such “undue delay in the production of public records constitutes an unlawful refusal to provide access to public records”, which, if done knowingly , is punishable by up to one year. jail, a $1,000 fine and dismissal.
However, if a person or agency violates this law, they will still be punished, but instead will be slapped with a non-criminal offense and fined up to $500.
In the resulting documents that were held in the governor’s office for another two months, the news agency reported that there were limited redactions made by Mr. DeSantis’ team and that records revealed that Mr. Beshears had not misused state money during his tenure as DBPR secretary.
The outlet originally requested the forms from DBPR in an effort to better understand a trip he and Mr. Gaetz took while the couple worked together in the legislature where they were traveling to the Bahamas with a group.
This trip is the subject of the federal investigation into Mr. Gaetz, which is part of a larger investigation in which investigators would determine whether escorts were illegally trafficked across national or international borders and whether Mr. Gaetz was agreeing to paid sex in exchange for access or legislative favors, according to for CBS News.
Mr. Beshears and Mr. Gaetz continue to deny the basis for this investigation, with Mr. Gaetz recently telling Fox News that, “It was an operation to destroy me.
In an email response to News 6, Mr Beshears told the outlet that he had ‘nothing to comment on the file as there is nothing to comment on’, adding that he believed that “It’s not even a story, and it’s frustrating to see your newspaper dragging my name through the mud to smear the Governor”.
The outlet added that Mr Beshears did not respond to a follow-up email offering him the opportunity to challenge published reports of the grand jury subpoena.
The Independent contacted Governor DeSantis’ office for comment.