Investigation of ethics complaint against Jim Norman gets bogged down

DOVER, Fla. - A local political activist who filed an ethics complaint against State Senator Jim Norman says he is frustrated at the slow pace of the state investigation.

An I-Team Investigation uncovered a previously undisclosed lakefront vacation home owned by Norman's wife which led to a criminal investigation and a complaint to the state commission on ethics.

So what, if anything, is happening?

Community activist George Neiman says he's been told by the Ethics Commission the facts in his complaint have been deemed "legally sufficient" to warrant investigation. But even though the complaint was filed six months ago, no investigation has been done.

For months the Dover resident and political gadfly has been looking for answers.

"I want to see a fair evaluation of Jim Norman's record and what he's done," Neiman says.

It was an I-Team Investigation last July which prompted a federal criminal probe of then Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman as well as a complaint filed against him to the State Commission on Ethics.

A lakefront vacation home in Arkansas listed only in the name of Norman's wife was the center of attention. It appeared nowhere on Norman's public disclosure form.

It turns out Mearline Norman got the money for the house, a half million dollars, in 2006 from the late businessman Ralph Hughes, who often appeared before Commissioner Norman and the County Commission.

"Does that home belong to you?" We asked Norman is July. No it does not." "It is an investment of my wife," Norman told us.

Norman's answers set off a fire storm where he was removed from the November State Senate ballot by a Tallahassee Judge who ruled the Hughes money was an illegal gift only to have the decision reversed by an appeals court.

In the months since, Dover resident George Neiman filed his complaint last October, Norman was elected to the Senate, and has amended his financial disclosure to include the house he originally claimed wasn't his.

But the State Commission on Ethics has yet to take action one way or another.

"I'm being told that they cannot get involved, their investigation cannot move forward until all other investigations including criminal investigations are completed," Neiman says.

The FBI is investigating and a Federal Grand Jury continues to hear evidence, but former Ethics Commission Chairman Tom Scaritt says that shouldn't stop the panel from acting.

"It doesn't have to work that way," Scaritt tells us.  "It's just simply the commission historically has taken the position that it wants to defer to the criminal agency and allow that investigation to go first."

Sources close to the federal investigation tell us its proceeding. The State Ethics Commission won't comment on the situation. And Norman's attorney told us today the senator amended his disclosure out of caution and that Norman too is waiting for the Ethics Commission to take up the matter.

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