A year later, State Senator Jim Norman still under a cloud

Federal investigation continues

It's now been a year since Jim Norman won his seat in the State Senate after being temporarily tossed off the ballot because of a scandal that nearly caused him his political career.

But more than a year later, State Senator Norman continues to live under the cloud of an ongoing federal probe and grand jury investigation.

On election night, most winning candidates savor the thrill of victory in front of every camera they can find.

Jim Norman, however, was nowhere to be found.

For months, he brushed past reporters shouting questions after an interview with the I-Team resulted in a heap of trouble.

It would later come out that late businessman Ralph Hughes gave then-Commissioner Norman's wife Mearline a half million dollars to purchase a lakefront vacation home in Arkansas. The same Ralph Hughes who did often appear before the County Commission in support of his interests.

A Tallahassee judge booted Norman off the ballot, ruling the money amounted to an illegal gift to Norman by Hughes.

An appellate court quickly reversed the decision, re-instated Norman, and a now smiling Norman eventually took his place in the State Senate.

The scandal caught the attention of the FBI and a federal grand jury. However, it's now been over a year since a criminal investigation began, and so far he has yet to be charged or cleared.

"Well you think it's a long time for any investigation like this to be pending but traditionally it will take some time," says former federal prosecutor LT Lafferty.

Lafferty says the biggest hurdle for the FBI is that the issues surrounding the house, the money, and Ralph Hughes became public before investigators became involved.

"It's unique because the cat is out of the hat if you will and therefore federal authorities are unable to use traditional undercover means to investigate the case," Lafferty says.

Instead, the grand jury has heard from witnesses like Hughes' son and his former business partner John Stanton.

"One of the things they are looking for is was there indeed some sought quid pro quo or did Jim Norman, Mearline Norman, or Ralph Hughes make any admissions or incriminating statements," Lafferty told us.

Sources say federal authorities are still assessing their case.

Norman has since amended his public disclosures to include the house he once denied he had any financial stake in.

Senator Norman's latest public disclosure statements also include the $164,000 retirement settlement he received from the Salvation Army.  Norman's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

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