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    LaBrake may face another inquiry

    A new complaint to the state Ethics Commission could spark another investigation of Tampa's former housing chief.

    By DAVID KARP
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 30, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Former city housing chief Steve LaBrake hoped a state ethics investigation into his conduct would end today.

    When he asked to appear before the Florida Ethics Commission this morning, LaBrake expected the board to approve a preliminary finding that he and Lynne McCarter, his fiancee and former aide, broke no ethics laws.

    But instead of an ending, today's meeting could result in a new investigation.

    A former city employee filed a complaint Wednesday asking the ethics commission to investigate numerous allegations that LaBrake and McCarter misused their public jobs for personal gain.

    "He definitely is morally wrong," said Nancy Griffin, 38, who worked for LaBrake until 1996. "I would like to see them prove he is ethically wrong," she said.

    In 1995, Griffin said, she was passed over for a promotion that went to McCarter.

    Griffin's complaint includes allegations that the director of the nonprofit Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan did favors for LaBrake that include digging a backyard pool and signing a blind lease on McCarter's Riverview home to help her qualify for a loan on a new home in South Tampa she and Labrake have moved into.

    "All of this stuff was not included in the original investigation," Griffin said.

    The Ethics Commission staff looked into LaBrake's conduct recently after Mayor Dick Greco asked them for an advisory opinion. A preliminary staff opinion concluded LaBrake violated no eth-cs laws when he promoted McCarter and got a bargain deal on the new home from a contractor who did business with the city department LaBrake managed.

    The staff said Florida's nepotism law did not prevent LaBrake from promoting McCarter because they were not married. The couple plan to marry, and are expecting a child.

    The nine-member Ethics Commission meets today to review those preliminary staff findings. They could approve the opinion, reject it, or delay a decision until deciding how to handle Griffin's complaint.

    LaBrake said he plans to thank the commission for doing a thorough job. He wants them to approve the staff opinion, and end the inquiry.

    "The law is the law. We didn't break any regulations. We didn't break any laws. And that has been proven," LaBrake said.

    He predicted another investigation would end with the same result.

    "It is a waste of taxpayer money to do it again," LaBrake said.

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