9 Investigates ethics investigation into the Orange County property appraiser



ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh confirmed that he will correct inaccurate financial documents he filed with the state, Channel 9's Vanessa Welch has learned.

Singh's acknowledgement of his problematic financial disclosure comes after 9 Investigates first reported Thursday night that the state ethics commission found "probable cause" to believe he had violated the state constitution by incorrectly reporting his net worth in an official document.

A 9 Investigates report during last year's campaign for property appraiser first raised questions about Singh's financial disclosure and his reported real estate holdings.

Singh, a Democrat, unseated long-time Republican incumbent Bill Donegan in November.

As a candidate, Singh had to disclose his assets. But he was accused in a formal complaint filed with the state of inflating his net worth for 2011.

And now the ethics commission has found probable cause to believe that he did in fact report his net worth incorrectly by claiming properties he had earlier transferred to his wife.

"I think this will raise questions in the public's mind about his credibility," WFTV political analyst Rick Foglesong told Welch.

However, Foglesong also said Singh was probably trying to err on the side of caution when he filled out his financial forms.

Singh's "financial disclosure" indicates he owns five properties, including a Windermere home. They're worth a total of $1.3 million.

But the properties are no longer in his name. Singh "quit claimed" or transferred them to his wife in 2009.

"He should have known better," Foglesong said.

Singh ran on his real estate experience, but it's unclear if he knew that once one quit claims a property, one can no longer list it as an asset.

"You can be sure of one thing," Foglesong added, "his Republican opponent will resurface this issue."

Singh declined to speak with Welch on camera Friday. However, in a statement sent to channel 9, Singh said he did not intend to misrepresent his finances.

"However, inaccurate filings must be corrected so I am respecting the opinion of the commission, correcting the filing, and I am moving forward with my efforts to make the Orange County Property Appraiser's Office the best in the state," Singh wrote in his statement.

Welch reached Donegan Friday, who said Singh has deceived the people of Orange County.

After Channel 9 started raising questions about the quit-claim transactions last year and whether taxes were properly paid, Singh told Channel 9 he had just paid some $2,400 in "doc taxes" that he owed to the Department of Revenue.

Ethics commission officials told Channel 9 this week that Singh has a right to an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge on the financial disclosure issue or he can try to reach a settlement with the commission prosecutor.

Ethics violations can result in penalties of up to $10,000 per violation. Discipline can also range from public censure to removal from office. Foglesong said he doubts this case would result in the need for a new election.

Complete statement to Channel 9 from Rick Singh:

Statement of Rick Singh, Orange County Property Appraiser

Re: Florida Commission on Ethics Press Release of March 13, 2013

In March 2013, the Florida Commission on Ethics published a press release stating that they had found probable cause that I, as a candidate for Property Appraiser,  filed an inaccurate 2011 Form 6 when I  qualified to run for office.   It was my belief that the residents of Orange County should be informed of my interests in these properties that had been previously transferred to my family members, because as   Property Appraiser I would be assessing these very properties.  My filing was not done to intentionally mislead or misrepresent my financial disclosures but instead to be as transparent as possible.  However, inaccurate filings must be corrected so I am respecting the opinion of the Commission, correcting the filing, and I am moving forward with my efforts to make the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office the best in the state.

 Rick Singh,

Orange County Property Appraiser