Flagler County Sheriff Donald Fleming was found to be in violation of the state code of ethics Friday for accepting a free, gift membership to the Hammock Beach Resort.
The Florida Commission on Ethics, via a 7-3 ruling, found that Fleming should have reported the membership as a gift. The commission also concluded that Fleming received discounted prices on meals that also should have been reported as a gift.
As a result, Fleming has resigned his membership at the club, according to a Friday release from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
“Although the Ethics Commission concluded that the honorary membership should have been reported, until its investigation was completed, I did not know the honorary membership was valued at more than $100,” Fleming said in a statement.
Fleming said that when he accepted the membership, it was his understanding that he would pay for meals. Fleming said he did not use any other facilities at the resort other than the dining room.
“Once I learned that the meals had been discounted and that the membership could be considered a gift under the ethics laws, I reimbursed the resort for the full amount of the discounts and resigned my membership,” the statement read. “Any violation was inadvertent, and I intend to cooperate with the commission to get this matter resolved.”
Fleming had held the membership since March 2009.
Fleming said in a follow-up interview on Monday that he gave back about $3,800 to compensate for the 20% discount he received at the resort’s restaurant.
“I’ve owned up to it,” he said. "I decided not to fight anything with the ethics board. I told the attorney up there whatever comes down, I’ll do. ... I made a mistake ... and it won’t happen again. I go there now as a private citizen.”
Toward the end of the 42-minute hearing, which took place in Tallahassee, one commission member made a motion to find probable cause and allow the advocate to incur a monetary fine.
“My feeling is that he paid back the money, that’s a good thing, and I admire that,” the commission member stated. “ ... We find probable cause and allow our advocate to negotiate some sort of fine to send a signal that you need to think about these things real hard before you accept a membership that allows you privileges that nobody else gets.”
Friday’s ruling comes during a heated reelection campaign, as Fleming will try to beat out Democratic challenger — and former Flagler Sheriff — Jim Manfre in next month’s election.
Fleming has also been connected to the Jamesine Fischer case, the woman accused of killing 76-year-old Francoise Pecquer in a hit-and-run accident last November. Fischer and her husband, School Board member John Fischer, are friends with Fleming.