Delores L. Walker, Reporter

The Florida Ethics Commission Executive Director has determined a complaint filed earlier is legally sufficient to order a preliminary investigation to determine if Lafayette County Tax Collector Marilyn Wimberly has violated state ethics laws.

The report of the investigation was released on December 27, 2002.

Based on the preliminary investigation of the complaint and on the recommendation of the Commission's Advocate, the Commission on Ethics found that there was probable cause to believe that Wimberly, as Lafayette County Tax Collector, violated Section 112.313 (6), Florida Statues by having the Tax Collector's Office staff act as notary and witnesses on a deed without actually witnessing the signature of the purported grantor and/or instructing them to lie under oath if questioned about it.

Those signatures involved Wimberly and her late husband.

Wimberly has served as Lafayette tax collector since 1989. Her office provides notarization services free of charge to anyone who needs that service.

The document in question was a deed to Wimberly from her late husband, J.W. "Dubber" Russell, allegedly executed shortly before his death.

According to the Ethics' Commission's findings, Wimberly admits she asked that the deed be notarized and witnessed by tax collector staff even though they were not present at the time the deed was executed. However, according to the Ethics Commission, one of those signing as a witness to the deed recalled that Wimberly later asked her to lie about the facts and that if questioned, should advise that she was present when the deed was executed by Russell.

The commission also stated that during a subsequent litigation regarding Wimberly's late husband's estate, Wimberly lied about the execution of the deed by testifying that her husband was present when the deed was notarized.

Preliminary facts from the commission's report indicate that Wimberly allegedly misused her office for her personal benefit. Based upon the evidence presented, the commission recommends there is probable cause to justify a public hearing to determine if Wimberly violated Section 112.313 (5), Florida Statues that states, "No public officer, employee of an agency or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others."

"The next step is a public hearing, that's all I can say," said Wimberly on Monday.

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