State Politics

Why did Florida hire banking regulator now suspended amid sex harassment allegations?

Florida banking regulator suspended

Ronald Rubin was suspended as commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation after an employee accused him of inappropriate behavior.
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Ronald Rubin was suspended as commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation after an employee accused him of inappropriate behavior.

The Florida banking regulator accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior got the job with the endorsement of Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis.

In a letter to the governor and two other Cabinet members in February, Patronis pushed for Ronald Rubin, a former D.C. lawyer who hadn’t had a job in four years, over 21 other applicants who met the minimum qualifications.

“Our office has interviewed a wide range of candidates and after careful consideration, I recommend that Ronald Rubin ... interview for this position,” Patronis wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried.

During the next week’s Cabinet meeting, Patronis moved to hire Rubin as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, and the three other Cabinet members concurred.

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Jimmy Patronis

However, Patronis apparently missed the fact that Rubin had been fired from his last job, as an adviser to the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, over an accusation of sexual harassment, according to a Monday story in Bloomberg Law.

Since leaving that job in 2015, Rubin hasn’t had a full-time job until he took the Florida job in February. He didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Patronis did not answer when asked why Patronis wanted Rubin for the job, which oversees the agency that regulates banks, payday loan stores and check-cashing operations. Rubin is paid $166,000. The spokeswoman said that neither Patronis nor anyone in his office had any knowledge of any misconduct committed by Rubin prior to the recent complaints.

She added that Patronis considered the allegations “deeply disturbing” and he suspended Rubin after the first complaint. The Chief Financial Officer’s office of inspector general is investigating.

In his 2018 application, Rubin said his reason for leaving the House committee job in 2015 was to “resume writing and publishing articles” and to volunteer for the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio campaign spokesman Dan Holler said the senator and Rubin knew each other but didn’t have a relationship. And he knew of neither Rubio nor anyone in Rubio’s office helping Rubin get the job.

Within weeks of getting the job at Patronis’ office, Rubin was accused of “inappropriate and uncomfortable behavior” with an employee, including inviting the employee to his downtown Tallahassee condo and discussing his parents’ sex life while at lunch.

The behavior forced the employee to hide from him and avoid socializing with coworkers for fear of running into the commissioner, according to the complaint.

Since then, two more people have come forward with their own stories of inappropriate behavior by Rubin, according to Patronis’ office.

One applicant for a job with Rubin wrote that the commissioner complained about “too many ‘rednecks’” in Tallahassee, and that some of the people in his agency were “too old.”

“He continued to talk about the current staff, saying [name redacted] was early in pregnancy but ‘showing already,’” the person, whose name was redacted, wrote.

The applicant repeatedly tried to get Rubin “back on track” during a 90-minute interview, but he strayed to different topics. Rubin complained that DeSantis didn’t recognize him at an event, according to the complaint, and “how his new job was actually costing him money.”

At the end of the interview, “he said he would look into whether my experience would be a fit for the position, but that he doubted it.”

“I have never experienced anything like this,” the person wrote.

Another complainant wrote that in a meeting, Rubin bragged about hearing about the sexual exploits of Jordan Belfort, the so-called “Wolf of Wall Street,” when Rubin was an enforcement attorney at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Belfort, a financial fraudster whose memoir was turned into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was a cooperating witness in Rubin’s case against shoe designer Steve Madden. Madden eventually spent 41 months in federal prison.

Rubin frequently brings up his experience with Belfort, writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed about it, noting it on his website and on his Florida résumé, and mentioning it during his interview with the Cabinet.

During his meeting with staff, Rubin told them Belfort had refused to discuss his sexual exploits with a woman in the room. The woman in the room, who was a colleague of Rubin’s at the time, left, and Belfort shared stories with Rubin, the employee recounted the commissioner saying.

The employee considered the story “inappropriate” to bring up in a staff meeting, but chalked it up to Rubin’s being nervous.

However, the employee said they learned later that Rubin gave his personal cell phone number to two female employees, according to the complaint.

“My feeling was that his purpose for doing so might not have been entirely work related,” the person wrote.

Since leaving the SEC in 2003, Rubin held seven different full-time jobs in 12 years, some for just a few months.

He worked for 16 months as an enforcement attorney at the then-fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and for just five months at his previous post as a chief adviser to the House Committee on Financial Services, according to his résumé.

After leaving the committee in 2015, he’s written articles and op-eds decrying the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, his only source of income, according to his résumé..

Patronis was responsible for ousting the last commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation last year, pressuring him to resign for not being “responsive.”

Rubin applied for the job in July, but the Gov. Rick Scott-led Cabinet decided not to hire anyone, leaving Deputy Commissioner Pam Epting in charge.

The new Cabinet decided to have everyone reapply, and Patronis settled on Rubin to be one of the finalists to interview before the Cabinet. The only other applicant chosen to interview was Linda Charity, a longtime former department employee who was twice its interim commissioner and nominated by Fried.

The Cabinet could remove or replace Rubin immediately, and Moody last week asked for an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the situation.

But no emergency meeting has been scheduled.

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