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    Ex-aide is accused of abusing office

    The Ethics Commission claims Stephen MacNamara, a top aide for the former House speaker, used his position to benefit a private client.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Ethics Commission has accused attorney Stephen MacNamara, a top aide for former House Speaker John Thrasher, of abusing his public position and illegally lobbying members of the state Cabinet.

    The Ethics Commission alleges that MacNamara used his position to benefit a private client.

    MacNamara vehemently denies the charges, which were made public Tuesday. He has accused Ethics Commission investigators of doing sloppy work and relying on erroneous news reports.

    The Ethics Commission action represents a formal charge in an investigation. If found guilty, MacNamara could face fines of up to $20,000.

    The allegations involve MacNamara's representation of Joe Anderson Jr. and Suwannee Concrete Co.

    Suwannee Concrete owns a controversial concrete plant being built near the environmentally sensitive Ichetucknee River near Gainesville. Anderson's companies also own a rock mine near Lake City that was bought by the state as part of an agreement in November 1999.

    The controversial deal to buy the rock mine and allow the concrete plant was approved by the governor and Cabinet in January 2000 after months of litigation.

    A formal complaint was filed against MacNamara by Anne Barkdoll, a Gainesville environmentalist who read newspaper stories about MacNamara's dual employment.

    In formal charges that will go before a state hearing officer for a trial, the Ethics Commission accused MacNamara of abusing his position by holding meetings in the House speaker's office at the Capitol in 1999 and using his state position to advance the issues of a private client.

    The Ethics Commission alleges that some of the people contacted by MacNamara assumed he was acting as a powerful state official and did not know he had been privately employed by Anderson.

    MacNamara denies holding any of the meetings in the Speaker's office and insists he was acting as a lawyer, and not a lobbyist, when he performed work for Anderson and his companies.

    MacNamara said the meetings were in Gov. Jeb Bush's large conference room, not the speaker's office.

    A second charge of illegally lobbying executive agency officials will go before Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet.

    MacNamara is accused of contacting Attorney General Bob Butterworth and an aide to Comptroller Bob Milligan to lobby for an agreement that led to the state's decision to spend $23-million on the purchase of the rock mine.

    "It's ridiculous," MacNamara said Wednesday.

    MacNamara said he was hired by Anderson, chairman of the Board at Suwannee Concrete, to help handle negotiations on the concrete plant and the sale of a rock mine to the state at a time when he was not under contract with the speaker.

    MacNamara was under contract with the House and paid about $254,000 for services from January to June in 1999 and in 2000. He went back to his job as a communications professor at Florida State University in between stints in the speaker's office.

    He said Ethics Commission investigators would have realized they were mistaken about his use of the speaker's office if they simply asked Anderson, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs, or even Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, who stumbled onto their meeting while looking for another meeting.

    "I'm sure he (Brogan) would remember it because he had not met Anderson, and I introduced them," MacNamara said.

    In a letter to the Ethics Commission, MacNamara said the only time he met Struhs and others involved in the Suwannee Concrete case at the speaker's office was on Nov. 18, 1999, when they left the Capitol and went to Holland & Knight's Tallahassee office to sign the final agreement.

    All other meetings took place in the governor's conference rooms and at Struh's agency, MacNamara said.

    MacNamara insists that he had a contract with the House and was not actually a House employee who would be subject to the state's ethics laws.

    Craig Willis, the special prosecutor handling the case against MacNamara, argued that MacNamara acted as Thrasher's chief of staff while under contract with the House and for a time in between the contracts when he was also representing Anderson.

    Struhs told investigators that MacNamara asked him to come to the speaker's office and told him he was interested in reaching an agreement with Anderson. Struhs told investigators said he was under the impression he was being called by Thrasher's staff and thought it was on behalf of a constituent.

    "MacNamara never made it clear at that meeting that he was interested as a private attorney represents his client," prosecutor Willis told commissioners during a meeting last week.

    The discussion took place during a closed session of the Ethics Commission, but tapes of it were made available after the decision was made public.

    Commission member Bruce S. Warshal agreed with Willis.

    "I know how government works," Warshal argued. "When the chief of staff walks in and says maybe we could find a compromise, that's a powerful statement. If at the same time he is also in the employment of a cement plant, that is a grievous error. This guy is lighting both ends of the candle."

    The case against MacNamara "is exactly what this commission is established to do -- to make sure people don't peddle their influence," Warshal added.

    Two members of the commission, Dean Colson and Carol Licko, voted against proceeding against MacNamara.

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