While Florida lawmakers debate a proposal to remove stickers from gas pumps plastered with the face of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, they might find more value in seeking answers from her about how she managed to accumulate a substantial amount of cash on a modest income. The answer to that question is required to be disclosed under Florida ethics laws.
In June of 2019, Fried filed a mandatory financial disclosure document listing her assets and liabilities. Among those assets: her Bank of America checking account with an eye-popping balance of $196,102.62, more than $166,000 higher than she had in the same checking account just one year earlier:
Where did all that cash come from?
Fried has consistently refused to say. Repeated queries to her communications staff at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have gone unanswered. A series of questions sent to the chairman of her political committee were also ignored.
As previously reported, the original 2018 financial disclosure Fried filed was missing crucial and required information about her income and her ownership of her company, Igniting Florida, LLC, that could help the public understand just how Fried, a lobbyist and attorney, could have pocketed that much cash in such a short time frame. The question is especially pertinent because she spent more than a third of the year campaigning for statewide office, not making money.
For months, nobody bothered to look into the mystery. Not the Florida Ethics Commission. And not even Florida’s once-aggressive capital press corps, filled with reporters that for the previous eight years were so fascinated with Governor Rick Scott’s personal finances that they never stopped hounding him with questions.
In January, The Capitolist finally broke the story: Fried had failed to disclose a single cent of income earned in 2018, and she failed to list her ownership of Igniting Florida, LLC. In response to our coverage, Fried finally filed an amended disclosure that stated she earned just $72,000 for the year and clarifying that she still owned 100 percent of Igniting Florida.
But therein lies the problem for Fried.
It is impossible for her checking account to gain that much cash from income of just $72,000. Even if she saved every penny of her income, and combined it with every penny earned in the first half of 2019, she’d still be $30,000 short.
Even if Fried got extremely lucky and purchased inexpensive shares of stock which later appreciated significantly, and she sold her shares in the same year, she is still required to report the capital gains as income.
There are also no major assets listed on Fried’s 2017 disclosure that Fried sold or disposed of in 2018, according to the forms she has filed.
Gifts, like the $701,000 luxury home in Tallahassee she received from her marijuana executive boyfriend, Jake Bergmann, are required to be disclosed to the Florida Ethics Commission on a Form 9. Fried’s name was recorded on a deed to the home in February 2019, which means the failure to disclose the home as a gift would constitute a likely ethics violation. The Capitolist has not been able to confirm whether or not Fried has filed a Form 9 disclosing the home as a gift.
The only gift exception is if someone in her family gave her the cash or an asset she converted to cash. But if that is the case, Fried should simply say so instead of refusing to answer such a simple question. From the Florida Ethics Commission website, the state’s financial disclosure law exists because it “enables the public to evaluate potential conflicts of interest, deters corruption, and increases public confidence in government.”
In other words, Nikki Fried owes the public an explanation of how her checking account got stuffed with $166,504.25 in cash on income of less than half that amount.