TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott’s chief job creator abruptly resigned Tuesday after less than eight months following disclosures that he collected unemployment benefits while traveling in Europe before he was hired.
Hunting Deutsch quit his $140,000-a-year job as executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, the new agency created by Scott to coordinate Florida’s job-creation efforts and attract new or expanding businesses. Scott now must find his third director of the agency in less than a year.
“I find the current media focus on my personal matters a distraction to the agency and your administration and believe it is best for me to leave,” Deutsch wrote in a resignation letter to Scott dated Tuesday. His last day on the payroll will be Dec. 14.
Deutsch resigned while Scott is on a three-day trade mission to Bogota, Colombia, leading a delegation of nearly 200 people seeking to bolster economic ties between Florida and the Latin American nation.
Reached by the Associated Press, Deutsch refused to answer questions about the benefits.
“Quite frankly, it’s a personal matter,” Deutsch said.
The agency Deutsch ran distributes unemployment benefits to jobless workers in Florida, which unions and other worker advocates say are the stingiest in the country — at $275 a week for a maximum of 23 weeks.
Deutsch collected unemployment benefits for 91 weeks over a two-year period from 2009 to 2011 when he was traveling in Europe with his wife, according to the Florida Current, the online news site of LobbyTools.com, which broke the story Nov. 7.
The 91 weeks in benefits were eight short of the 99 he could have drawn because of emergency federal rules in place at the height of the national recession.
“I’m fortunate enough where I’ve worked for very successful companies for a long period of time and luckily sold all my bank stocks — most of them at the right time, at the right price — and quite frankly, didn’t have to work,” Deutsch told the Current. “So my wife and I took time off and traveled a great bit; we were in Europe several times.”
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Deutsch did the right thing by resigning.
“I think it was bad form for him to seek unemployment while he was off on a trip to Europe,” Gaetz said. “I think those of us in public life should have a higher standard of performance.”
Scott welcomed Deutsch to “our team” in April, praising his “strong and experienced background” as a senior executive in the banking industry, most recently at BankUnited in Miami, where he was executive vice president of wealth management. Deutsch also spent more than 20 years in a variety of posts at SunTrust Banks in Orlando.
Deutsch is the second executive director of DEO to depart following controversy.
The agency’s first leader, Doug Darling, resigned in January under pressure from Scott’s former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, four days after Darling sent MacNamara a note complaining about excessive travel by the state film commissioner. Shari Kerrigan had been recruited to her post by MacNamara.
Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.