House Pro Tem Investigated for Homestead Fraud
Gibbons in Tallahassee
Florida House Democratic Caucus
State Rep. Joe Gibbons, who has been named the number-two Democrat in the Florida Legislature, was investigated for homestead fraud earlier this year -- and government records indicate he lied to officials during the probe.
The Broward County Property Appraisers Office investigation also found that Gibbons' homestead in Hallandale Beach conflicted with another controversial homesteaded property in Jacksonville owned by his wife, Florida Board of Governors member Ava L. Parker.
On top of that, it doesn't appear that Gibbons had a valid residence in his own district.
Investigative records from the Broward County Property Appraisers Office show that Gibbons' 2009 homestead tax exemption on a Hallandale condo was yanked after it was discovered that he had rented out the Anchor Bay Club unit, valued at $300,000, while claiming to reside there. He owned the unit, 5A, with Julie Hamlin, a Hallandale political activist who died in October 2009. The unit served as the legislator's official address on his driver's license, vehicle registration, and voter's card, according to appraisers records.
Property appraisers investigator Sam Frusterio confirmed through management at the condo association that Gibbons' unit at Anchor Bay Club had been rented to two people, Andre Verdier and Carole Martel, beginning in November 2009. Investigative records show that Frusterio visited the property manager, who told him that Gibbons had broken the rules of the condo association by failing to file paperwork and get permission.
When Gibbons, who was named Democratic leader pro tem by Rep. Ron Saunders last week, learned of the investigation this past May 11, he phoned Frusterio "agitated, saying that he has never
rented out his property and that he has never placed his unit on the MLS. He added that he would supply with a letter indicating his affirmation of residency. Mr. Gibbons was not informed of the BCPA's contact with the management company."
Gibbons then wrote a letter that was received by the appraisers office on May 18 claiming that he hadn't rented out the property. Frusterio then asked for a notarized affidavit from Gibbons with more information. Gibbons submitted the affidavit to Frusterio, but it wasn't notarized or signed.
At the same time, Frusterio was learning of more complications in the case. Gibbons had married Ava Lora Parker, an attorney and member of the powerful Board of Governors, in October 2008. The following July, Parker gave birth to twins. The appraisers office discovered that Parker also had a homestead exemption on a home in Jacksonville.
So Gibbons and Parker, married with twins, held two homestead exemptions on properties in Duval and Broward counties. Investigators essentially determined that Gibbons had violated homestead laws twice.
Back in 2007, Parker had allowed a Duval County School Board candidate named Brenda Priestly Jackson to use the home as her district address. That led to a scandal during which Jackson was asked to resign from office. From an October 13, 2007, Times-Union article:
Duval County schools Superintendent Joseph Wise on Friday publicly called for School Board member Brenda Priestly Jackson to resign, claiming that she does not live in the district she represents.
His unexpected demand, that came in a letter circulated to city officials and the media, stirred a furor on the School Board, drawing anger and harsh criticism from board members and prompting the scheduling of a meeting Tuesday to discuss the status of his contract...
"Your behaviors have begun to demonstrate a contempt of the rules by which we live, and for the taxpayers who support the work we do," he wrote.
Priestly Jackson said Friday she has done nothing wrong and has no plans to resign.
The letter, dated Friday, accuses Priestly Jackson of living outside her School Board district despite using another address within her district on official documents. Florida law requires elected officials to live in the district they represent. If found to be in violation, she could be forced from office by the state.
The letter also cited a litany of "aberrant" behavior that includes lobbying for a higher paying position for her husband, a school system employee; failure to reimburse for a school-paid trip to New York City with her family last June; and pressuring school employees into favorable placement of her children a local magnet school.
Priestly Jackson denied all of the allegations in Wise's letter.
She acknowledges owning a home outside of her district at 5089 Andrew Robinson Drive and said her family spends a great deal of time there, but it is not her main residence. Property records list her as the owner.
She also rents a home at 11482 Key Biscayne Drive, which property records show is owned by Ava L. Parker, a local lawyer. Priestly Jackson said she has rented a residence in her district since her first election in 2002. She was re-elected last year.
Jackson didn't resign -- in fact, she is now chairwoman of the Duval County School Board.
Citing dual homestead exemptions, the Broward County Property Appraisers Office ruled against Gibbons and took away his homestead exemption.
When naming Gibbons as his second in command among Florida Democrats, Rep. Saunders was effusive in his praise of the legislator. "Rep. Gibbons is an outstanding public servant who brings a businessman's perspective to the Florida Legislature," he said. "He is a trusted adviser and a much-admired member of the Democratic Caucus who is known for his passion and dedication to the people of Florida. I will appreciate Joe's sage advice in his role as Democratic Caucus leader pro tempore."
I've contacted Gibbons' legislative office in Tallahassee for comment and will update as soon as I hear from him. It's clear from the appraisers investigation that he wasn't pleased with the result. After being told that the affidavit he'd submitted needed to be signed and notarized, he complained to Frusterio.
"Mr. Gibbons stated that he did not understand why this was happening and he would contact [Property Appraiser] Lori Parrish about the situation," wrote Frusterio in his file.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.