State collecting debts from SWFL public officials

Published: Updated:

LEE COUNTY, Fla.-  Lawmakers, and politicians in the State of Florida are not paying up. The state is now looking to collect $500,000 in outstanding fines.

A WINK News exclusive investigation uncovers even SWFL officials owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Fourteen people on the debt collector’s list served positions in Southwest Florida. Together, they owe around $16,000.

“The way they list it, is to secure and sustain public trust. That’s the reason they have to file,” said Bernie Feliciano, Lee County Supervisor of Elections.

Feliciano refers to the financial disclosure forms, which ask filers to list their net worth, sources of income, real estate holdings and debts.

The elections office mails out the forms every year on behalf of the state.

Under Florida law, elected and appointed officials have to file these forms every year , or pay a fine up to $1,500.

The State Ethics Commission recently hired debt collectors to chase almost $500,000 worth in late fees. A spokesperson with the commission says they are given three chances to file before they have to pay late fees.

WINK News reached out to every person on the list from Southwest Florida. Their debts ranged from $200 to $1,500, some going back as far as 2005. Many didn’t know they had to file the forms, or that they had fees.

In fact, some people on the list are just volunteers on government boards.

Becky Sue Mercer says she’s seen the confusion firsthand, working for the Arcadia Housing Authority. Two of their volunteers were on the list.

“They do receive the forms in the mail, and sometimes the elderly board members tend to get a little confused,” said Mercer.

We asked Mercer if having to hand over personal financial information made it hard to find volunteers.

“It is always a possibility that it deters,” said Mercer.

The state has gone so far as to withhold salaries from some people on the list. But again, they say people are given three chances to repay.

A list of those people who haven’t paid, can be found on the State Ethics website:

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