Sarasota Commissioner Arroyo files Florida Bar complaint against lawyer after FDLE probe

SARASOTA − City Commissioner Erik Arroyo accused a law firm of trying to embarrass, intimidate and harass him by using the criminal legal system to gain legal leverage, according to a Florida Bar complaint filed by the former mayor.

Arroyo’s complaint focuses on a document and alleged communication Bentley Goodrich Kison attorney Ashley Gaillard provided to prosecutors that he claims used “rumor and innuendo” to focus investigators on a charity he helped create called the Sarasota City Foundation.

Gaillard was a former assistant state attorney who joined the Sarasota law frim in July 2022.

Arroyo said the actions of the Bentley firm went “beyond the pale, violated several rules of conduct and drained substantial public resources and unethically damaged several reputations.”

Morgan Bentley, the firm’s managing partner, denied the Arroyo’s allegations in the Bar complaint.

“Mayor Arroyo’s complaint is not only frivolous but also misunderstands the facts, the law and the nature of his responsibilities as a public official,” he said in an email.

Bentley Goodrich Kison is representing the Ritz-Carlton residences condo board in ongoing litigation and to oppose the development of One Park Sarasota, an 18-story condo project in downtown Sarasota at The Quay, as its development application proceeds at City Hall.

Arroyo alleges the firm violated Florida Bar rules by lobbying law enforcement officials to gain advantage in a civil matter, which culminated in a “baseless criminal complaint” that ultimately found he did not “willfully” break Florida law.

Florida law requires charities to obtain a solicitation certificate before accepting donations. Arroyo’s foundation raised about $70,000 from an event called The Mayor’s Ball prior to obtaining that certificate. The charity has since obtained the required documentation from state officials.

A criminal investigation was opened in April after a Sarasota Planning Board member sought advice from the deputy city attorney on whether a discussion about possible future work with an investor in One Park Sarasota would require he recuse himself from an upcoming vote about the project. Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators determined there was no evidence that discussion broke any Florida laws.

Gaillard’s memo to investigators — submitted after the Sarasota Police Department opened an investigation — points to “apparent attempts by members of One Park development team to improperly influence city officials,” including that One Park developers were rumored to have donated to the Sarasota City Foundation at The Mayor’s Ball and that Arroyo had not provided a list of donors at the event after the firm requested them.

An email from Bentley to Arroyo appeared to pressure Arroyo to disclose the records the firm sought to clear up rumors about the Sarasota City Foundation’s donors, arguing that by not disclosing the donors he left himself open to criticism.

“You have to admit, a reporter with an imagination could spin this thing into something it isn’t and then where are we,” he wrote to Arroyo. “Why not just make the contributors and expenses known and avoid the whole mess?”

Arroyo interpreted that exchange as a threat aimed at pressuring him to release the data the firm sought.

Bentley dismissed the Arroyo’s complaint and its allegations, noting his firm did nothing wrong by forwarding investigators information or seeking the donor lists from the Sarasota City Foundation.

“Our society functions on law enforcement obtaining as much information as possible regarding potential criminal activities,” he said in an email. ” … Indeed, public confidence as to the integrity of governmental proceedings was well served by the investigations.”

Previous coverage: No charges against Sarasota commissioner after no evidence Arroyo ‘willfully’ broke law

Related: Sarasota trial over One Park, Quay waterfront plans gives insight into development process

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Arroyo alleges “rumor and innuendo” used to push FDLE probe

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