Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman accused of misuse of state funds
By Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
In Print: Thursday, December 9, 2010

TALLAHASSEE — The state Commission on Ethics has found that Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank
Peterman Jr. may have "corruptly" misused his position or state resources to pay for frequent taxpayer-
funded trips between the state capital and his home in St. Petersburg.

The watchdog agency found probable cause that Peterman violated the code of ethics, which could
subject him to a fine. With a new governor set to take office next month, Peterman has resigned as chief of
the Department of Juvenile Justice and is likely to be replaced.

Peterman, 48, is a former Democratic state representative from St. Petersburg and a minister who
preaches at the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church in his hometown. Gov. Charlie Crist appointed
him to run the department in February of 2008.

The investigation was triggered by a citizen's complaint based on a Times/Herald news story in November
2009 that showed Peterman had spent $44,000 on travel in his first 18 months as a state official. Many
trips were airplane flights between Tallahassee and Tampa, and Peterman's family continued to live in St.
Petersburg while he worked for the state.

The probable cause action against Peterman was somewhat unexpected because the agency's staff
recommended a finding of no probable cause, saying there was a lack of evidence that he acted with
corrupt intent as the law requires.

"(Peterman's) actions could be categorized as mismanagement or waste in government," advocate or
prosecutor Diane Guillemette wrote in her recommendation, "but as the agency head it was part of his
position to determine if the travel was necessary. … Consequently, the 'corruption' element of the charge
cannot be sustained."

In addition, Peterman has reimbursed the state $25,630 for travel that an internal investigation by the
Governor's Office considered excessive or not a justifiable government expense.

With five of the commission's nine members in attendance in a closed-door session last Friday, the panel
voted 4-1 to fully pursue an inquiry of Peterman, said Kerrie Stillman, a spokeswoman for the Ethics

A more thorough review could take months to complete. If the violation is upheld by the commission, the
panel recommends a penalty to the governor, who makes the final decision.

Peterman declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Mark Herron, who said of the
decision: "It doesn't seem to be an appropriate use of the state's resources, when the case has already
been adjudicated and the penalties have been paid."

Last January, Crist's chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, issued a critical report that recommended
Peterman repay the state as a "corrective action … for travel not fully and completely justified as official
state business."

Crist declined to criticize Peterman over the Ethics Commission's finding.

"I want to reserve judgment because probable cause in and of itself doesn't reach to the level of a
determination. While it's not a great step, to say the least, it's not a conclusion," Crist said. "We're
innocent till proven guilty."

Peterman has remained on the job, earning $120,000 a year, but he switched to commuting by car
between the two cities after the story appeared.

Peterman's travel bills included $2,848 in parking charges, $7,430 for hotel rooms and $1,600 in fees to
change flight times. The report criticizes his frequent use of short-term airport parking and notes he
charged the state $785 for five hotel nights and a rental car for two conferences in Tampa.