Pruitt Says He’s Not Part of Mendelsohn Probe
A former lawmaker who received money from a committee tied to indicted lobbyist Alan Mendelsohn said on Friday he has done nothing wrong and is not part of the federal investigation that snared the South Florida lobbyist.
Instead, former Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said he was among many lawmakers receiving legal campaign contributions from Mendelsohn, a Broward County lobbyist now at the center of an investigation over influence peddling through illegal campaign contributions, money laundering and fraud.
Pruitt’s name was linked to the investigation in a published blog report Friday.
“I’ve never been involved in any investigation,” Pruitt told the News Service on Friday. “I have never been contacted by anyone in regard to this investigation, either from the state or from the feds.”
The main thrust of the charges against Mendelsohn is that he solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars that contributors thought he was using to buy influence with politicians in Tallahassee, but instead was using the money for himself, buying a house, a car and making other purchases. Part of the alleged crime involved Mendelsohn actually telling a contributor who was under investigation that Mendelsohn was using the money to bribe public officials to stop the probe. No such bribery actually happened, officials say.
But the 32-count indictment also alleges that Mendelsohn did make tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions – but did it illegally in some cases.
Among those charges is that Mendelsohn, through political organizations he controlled, funneled about $87,000 to “a then public official,” far more than the legal amount of a campaign contribution. The indictment alleges that the money was given to a third party and disguised as a payment to a consultant, but then was sent to the politician.
The indictment doesn’t name the official.
However, The Daily Pulp Blog in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times on Friday reported, based on an unnamed source, that Pruitt is the “then official” who received the $87,000.
Pruitt said Friday he’d been fielding calls most of the day since the blog named him as the recipient – and complained it was unfair.
“I know it goes with the turf,” Pruitt said. “But this is defamation.”
The Mendelsohn indictment has swept through Florida political circles – having raised the possibility that other prominent lobbyists and lawmakers could be connected to the alleged scheme. Much of the purported wrongdoing involves political committees dubbed 527s for the section of the IRS code that covers them. A federal court ruling earlier this year has left them largely unregulated by state officials.
Mendelsohn, 51, was indicted earlier this week by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale and charged with masterminding the fraudulent political fundraising and lobbying network. He is accused of having diverted more than $350,000 from political organizations he controlled to personal expenses, including a home and a car.
He was also charged with concealing an additional $274,000 in payments he allegedly directed his lobbying clients to make to third parties on his behalf. The illegal payments, designed to circumvent lobbying disclosure rules, included tuition for his children's education.
Mendelsohn has pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released last week on $100,000 bond. His lawyer, John Keker, said this week that he will fight the charges.
Pruitt told the News Service that he has received campaign contributions from Mendelsohn over the years and that he is not alone in receiving money from the well-connected lobbyist.
“My campaign finances are public record,” Pruitt said. “My disclosures are public record.”
Asked if he was the unidentified lawmaker who received the $87,000 mentioned in the indictment, Pruitt declined to specifically comment.
“I’ve received contributions from him just like a lot of other lawmakers,” Pruitt said. “I’ve received campaign contributions but they were all legal.”
Pruitt retired in May a year ahead of his term’s end. With three children in college, Pruitt said then that finances played a significant role in his decision to step down early. His last day was Aug 4 when he was replaced by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
"This is an early retirement, just so you know," Pruitt told the News Service back in May. "I'm not being investigated. I'm not being scrutinized…."It's just time to go home."