Court Buys Convicted Senator’s Ignorance Defense
The only convicted felon to serve in the Florida Legislature actually convinced a state appellate court to overturn a jury’s guilty verdict by claiming he didn’t know state employees were illegally working on his reelection campaign on taxpayer time.
Democrat State Senator Gary Siplin was convicted by an Orlando jury last year of felony grand theft for using three legislative staff members to work on his 2004 reelection campaign. The jury agreed with prosecutors that Siplin authorized and encouraged the state employees to illegally work on his campaign and that one of them drew both a state taxpayer paycheck and a Democratic Party paycheck for the services.
Despite the conviction, Siplin continued to serve on the legislature while he appealed the verdict to Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals in Daytona. In overturning the guilty verdict, a three-judge panel said that the jury wrongly convicted Siplin because it ignored the possibility that he had no idea his office employee was being paid by the state while working on his 2004 reelection campaign.
The 13-page opinion states that there was not enough evidence to convict Siplin in the first place and that, because of double jeopardy, he cannot be retried on the charges. The lawmaker had been sentenced to three years of probation, community service and a $1,890 fine. Local newspapers called for his resignation and referred to him as an embarrassment.
This wasn’t Siplin’s first controversial escapade. While he was an assistant county attorney in Miami-Dade, he borrowed nearly $100,000 from a county program designed to encourage minorities to open businesses. Siplin, who is black, used the money to start a hat shop, which later failed, and has repeatedly asked the county to forgive the loan, which he has no intention of paying.