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Senate lawyer insists Farkas declined interview

His notes counter the lawmaker's denial that he refused to be questioned at first about a trip paid for by a gambling firm.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published December 3, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - For the third consecutive day, the Florida Senate's top lawyer exchanged letters Friday with state Rep. Frank Farkas over his willingness to cooperate in a probe of a trip Farkas and three senators took to Toronto.

In the latest letter, Senate lawyer Steve Kahn said Farkas declined a Nov. 3 request to answer questions about the trip to the world headquarters of gambling giant Magna Corp.

Kahn said his notes show that he first contacted House lawyers on Oct. 26 to request an interview with Farkas, and that on Nov. 3 Kahn was informed, by a House lawyer, that Farkas had said no.

Farkas previously had denied rejecting such a request and said Friday he does not recall declining Kahn's invitation.

He said he will cooperate so the inquiry can end within the next two weeks.

"I've got nothing to hide," Farkas said. "I'm ready to talk to him."

The Toronto trip was paid for by Magna, which is seeking legislative approval next week to install slot machines at its South Florida racetrack, Gulfstream Park.

Farkas, 49, chairs a House committee that oversees gambling issues. A candidate for state Senate, Farkas traveled with Sens. Dennis Jones of Treasure Island, Jim King of Jacksonville and Mike Bennett of Bradenton. Two lobbyists also went on the two-day trip.

The lawmakers said they toured Magna's operations and learned more about the firm's Florida expansion plans.

King has said Magna pledged a $10,000 donation to the Republican Party, but no fundraising events took place. The $48,000 trip was initially listed as a donation by Magna, prompting Senate President Tom Lee to order a full investigation of the event.

Kahn's latest letter to Farkas follows a heated exchange between the two.

Kahn wrote Farkas earlier in the week, asking him to reconsider his decision not to answer questions. On Thursday, Farkas wrote back a scathing letter accusing Kahn of mischaracterizing Farkas' position, insisting that Kahn never tried reaching him directly.

In Friday's three-page reply, Kahn said he did not contact Farkas directly because "most responsible lawyers" go through the appropriate lawyer first.

Kahn went on to describe a Nov. 3 phone call from House attorney Richard Hixson in which Kahn said Hixson reported: "I just went up to Bob Ward's office and we called Rep. Farkas and he declined to be interviewed." Ward is the House chief of staff.

Kahn's account was confirmed by the House. Said House spokesman Towson Fraser: "There's nothing factual in the letter that we dispute."

Farkas said he recalls House lawyers recommending that he not answer the Senate's questions because it would set a bad precedent, and he took that advice. But he said he wanted Kahn to call him.

"I don't ever remember saying I don't want to be interviewed," Farkas said.

Farkas said he is eager to put the entire episode behind him.

"After the chain of events this week, it's not worth it," he said. "There's more of a downside to not talking than there is an upside."

--Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.

[Last modified December 3, 2005, 01:21:14]


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