Longtime Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden is facing an ethics violation investigation, according to a complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
The complaint, filed by Hillsborough CountyDemocratic Party State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez, alleges Belden illegally solicited favors and used his public office for political gain.
In her complaint, Gonzalez claims Belden offered to help her find employment with a private law firm if she persuaded potential political rivals not to challenge his reelection. She also said he threatened her with professional ruin if she failed to do so.
The complaint points to emails and text messages between July 22 and August 10, 2019.
“It is my understanding that you are aggressively trying to run someone against me,” Belden wrote. “I have helped people in Tampa and I have destroyed people in Tampa. I have tried reaching out to you. I can possibly help you with a law firm. I know every respected and admired lawyer in town in their respective specialty.”
“Hopefully you understand what I am saying. As long as you continue to try to run someone against me there is no reason to meet,” he concluded.
Belden reportedly followed up with a text message the next day reiterating his ability to help and implying that help was not available without conditions.
Belden has since decided not to run for reelection, but at the time he was actively planning a bid for another term.
Gonzalez had previously worked as legal counsel for the Civil Service Board, a public agency disbanded last year after complaints it was a waste of taxpayer funding.
Belden was among those who called for its closure, which ultimately happened, leaving Gonzalez without a job.
“To halt opposition to his reelection bid, Respondent attempted to use the influence of his position to solicit a favor from Complainant,” the complaint reads.
Belden declined to comment on the complaint, but offered a letter explaining his position.
“While I regret that the complainant misconstrued my motives, I maintain that the complaint is without merit and I do intend to vigorously defend my spotless record of serving the people of Hillsborough County with honor and integrity for more than 20 years,” Belden wrote.
He’ll get that opportunity Sept. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Commission’s office in Tallahassee when the board meets to evaluate whether there is probable cause for further investigation. If none is found, the complaint will be dismissed. If probable cause is found, Belden will be entitled to a full evidentiary hearing.
In his letter, which is not addressed to anyone but appears intended for Gonzalez, he claims she had no right to make the complaint public.
The complaint, as well as a letter from the Commission to Belden’s attorney, are both stamped “confidential.”
“As the result of a clerical error by the staff of the Ethics Commission, you are in receipt of a formal notice addressed to my attorney and stamped “Confidential” on a matter that is not currently a public record under Florida Law,” Belden wrote. “
“Knowing the Ethics complaint process is frequently weaponized for political purposes. The legislature provided that all such complaints shall remain confidential until due process has been afforded to all parties, and the Ethics Commission has determined that there is probable cause that an ethics violation has occurred.”
He cautions Gonzalez that sharing the contents of the complaint is a violation of his right to privacy and confidentiality.
While the initial probable cause hearing is scheduled for Sept., Belden and his attorney have until August 24 to respond.
Belden Probable Cause 06192020 – Copy by Janelle Taylor on Scribd
July 1, 2020 at 2:16 pm
Right in time for elections
July 1, 2020 at 4:23 pm
Kevin Preston do your research buddy see below articles/history of Belden-The Spotless record has a stain on it, a big stain. This guy has no respect for women, but appears he messed with the wrong Latino. I commend Mrs. Alma Gonzales for being strong enough to stand up for what is right. Doug has a history of denial and later admitting by apologies. The evidence is your email Doug, that’s called evidence. I will be voting for April Griffin. I see why Doug is supporting Nancy Millan Humm because he wants to suck off the taxpayers dime some more, I’m sure he wants a contract. So why Nancy? She is the least qualified in the office Director of Community Relations making a six-figure salary and no one in the community even knows who she is. She only appeared in the race after April Griffin announced she was running against Doug. Enough is Enough let make this office about the people it’s supposed to serve.
There is a tape in Tampa kiss case
By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published Nov. 14, 2006
Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober asked the governor Tuesday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that county tax collector Doug Belden kissed a woman against her will and intentionally rubbed her breasts with his elbow.
Ober spokeswoman Pam Bondi said the move was necessary to avoid a conflict of interest.
“Doug Belden is a personal friend of Mark Ober and many members of our staff,” Bondi said.
On Oct. 13, police opened an investigation into Belden after Julie Irwin, a 38-year-old jewelry maker, accused him of kissing and groping her in the bar of a Harbour Island restaurant.
Belden initially told a reporter he may have petted Irwin’s dog, a Boston terrier named Babar, but that he never touched Irwin.
But Irwin’s attorney, Jeff Brown, says a security camera at Jackson’s Bistro tells another story.
Brown and Irwin reviewed the tape Monday with police. The tape, which has not been released to reporters, shows Belden approach Irwin, kiss her and rub up against her as he pets her dog, Brown said.
The tape does not have audio, but according to Brown, Belden’s advances were clearly unwelcome. “In the guise of petting a dog, he basically has his head buried in her lap,” Brown said. “You can see him kiss her. It’s hard to see. You see him just disappear into her lap. It’s apparent to an unbiased viewer that he’s invading her space and kissing her.”
Brown said he wants to know why Belden denied touching Irwin.
Belden has referred all questions to his attorney, Norman Cannella. Cannella was scheduled to review the security tape with police Tuesday. Cannella suggested that Irwin had increased the severity of the allegations since the initial report to police.
“This woman – whoever she is – is increasing the tempo of her story,” he said. “This thing wasn’t spun initially by this woman as anyone touching her breasts.”
But Brown says the tape solidified his client’s credibility and raised questions about the honesty of Belden.
Belden, a Republican, took office in 1998.
Irwin wants Belden to issue a public apology, accepting responsibility, Brown said.
July 2, 2020 at 2:19 pm
When you review the case involving Julie Irwin, he denies it all, until a video emerges to the surface. Then he offers a public apology claiming to have a alcohol problem. The behavior has not changed. “Helping Poor People and Destroy People” I cant support anyone who supports this animal!!!
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