Ron DeSantis' Office Delayed Release of Records of Matt Gaetz Associate

Officials in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' office delayed the release of financial records relating to former state official Halsey Beshears for two months, according to documents obtained by the state's News 6.

Beshears is the former secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). News 6 made a public records request for Beshears' state spending records from DBPR on April 15, 2021.

Beshears was reportedly named in a grand jury subpoena, along with Representative Matt Gaetz, as part of an ongoing federal investigation into alleged sex trafficking.

Neither Gaetz nor Beshears have been charged with any crime more than a year since the investigation first became public knowledge. Both men previously served together in the Florida state legislature. Gaetz has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Records obtained by News 6 and reported by the outlet on Monday show that DBPR compiled Beshear's financial records within days of receiving the request, while the office obtained some documents in a matter of hours.

DBPR then sent the records to DeSantis' office for a "secondary" review. The records were apparently sent to the governor's office by May 4, 2021, according to News 6, and were not released to outlet for more than two months.

The records were reportedly "with Kim for review"—referring to Kim Bane, an administrative assistant with the Executive Office of the Governor.

DeSantis' office told News 6 that the governor has the power to review public records compiled by subordinate state agencies if he "may have an equity" in the records "because the record includes communications with the Executive Office of the Governor, because the record concerns the Governor, or because there is reason to believe that the Governor may be asked about information in the record."

Bryan Griffin, DeSantis' deputy press secretary, told News 6: "In accordance with the Governor's duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, the Executive Office of the Governor may review the record to ensure the accuracy and correctness of the record production."

News 6's report called into question the explanation for the delay offered by DeSantis' office and pointed to Florida's Government in the Sunshine Manual, compiled by Attorney General Ashley Moody.

The manual outlines the "very limited circumstances" in which a state agency can delay the release of public records and says "the only delay" that is permissible under state law "is the limited reasonable time allowed the custodian to retrieve the record and delete those portions of the record the custodian asserts are exempt."

Florida's Public Record Act does not require public records to be produced within a specific timeframe, but the Sunshine Manual says "an agency's unjustified delay in producing public records constitutes an unlawful refusal to provide access to public records."

Officials who knowingly violate the public record law can potentially be removed from office and be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor that may be punished by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Unknowingly violating the law is considered a noncriminal infraction and can entail a fine of up to $500.

News 6 reported on Monday that the documents they had received did not indicate that Beshears had used state money improperly and that redactions were very limited. The outlet also reported that it did not appear DeSantis' office had made additional redactions.

DeSantis, a Republican, appointed Beshears to serve as secretary of DBPR in January, 2019. While Beshears had been serving in the Florida legislature in September 2018, he reportedly traveled to The Bahamas with Gaetz and others.

That trip is subject to the ongoing federal investigation. Neither Gaetz nor Beshears have been charged with any crime.

Beshears resigned from DBPR in January 2021, citing health reasons. Reports published after that resignation linked Beshears to the investigation.

He told News 6 in an emailed statement: "I have nothing to comment on the record because there is nothing to comment about. This is not even a story, and it is frustrating to see your paper drag my name through the mud in order to smear the Governor."

Newsweek has asked DeSantis' and Gaetz's offices for comment.

Governor Ron DeSantis Speaks to the Media
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media about the cruise industry during a press conference at PortMiami on April 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Officials in DeSantis' office reportedly delayed the release of financial records relating to an associate of Representative Matt Gaetz. Getty Images/Joe Raedle