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Longtime Hillsborough Tax Collector under investigation for ethics violations

Posted at 11:01 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 08:19:43-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. -- ABC Action News has uncovered a local elected official is now under investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Longtime Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden has been accused of violating two state statutes, including using his position to secure a political favor.

"I strongly believe that enough is enough and Doug Belden can’t go around bullying people using threats like some common thug," said Alma Gonzalez, who filed the complaint with the ethics commission in 2019.

Gonzalez, who is an elected State Committeewoman with the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, said Belden sent her a series of emails between July 22, 2019 and August 2019.

The complaint states Belden used his public email account to arrange a meeting with Gonzalez concerning his re-election campaign. It states he also sent Gonzalez a text with his personal cell phone, which he receives a $60 monthly stipend, paid for by taxpayers.

In one email, the complaint states Belden promised to use his "influence" to help her obtain employment with a private law firm.

Gonzalez tells ABC Action News reporter Ryan Smith that these meetings came with one condition.

"To get me to agree that he would not have a Democratic opponent in his upcoming re-election bid and when I did not submit to his will, then he resorted to threatening me and my family," said Gonzalez.

Belden has since announced he is no longer seeking re-election. According to the complaint, Belden dropped out of seeking a sixth term as Tax Collector due to medical issues.

But back in August, when he was still in the race, the complaint shows Belden sent Gonzalez an email, saying in part, "I have helped people in Tampa and I have destroyed people in Tampa." The message goes on to state, "Hopefully you understand what I am saying. As long as you try to run someone against me there is no reason to meet."

While Belden declined our request for an interview, he did send reporter Ryan Smith a statement that reads in part, "While I regret that the complaint misconstrued my motives, I maintain that the complaint is without merit and I do intend to vigorously defend my spotless record of serving the people of Hillsborough County with honor and integrity for more than 20 years."

Belden will get his chance to be heard in September when the Florida Commission on Ethics holds a hearing.

Gonzalez tells ABC Action News that she will be attending the hearing in Tallahassee.

"No one is above the law, including Doug Belden," she said.