Ex-Boca mayor Susan Haynie pleads guilty to misdemeanors in public corruption case

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Hannah Winston

Published April 8, 2021


WEST PALM BEACH — The former Boca Raton mayor who was charged with public corruption for her financial ties to two of the city's largest commercial landowners pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges Thursday morning.

Susan Haynie pleaded guilty to misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflicts, both first-degree misdemeanors, before Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen.


In an apology letter, Haynie said the residents of Boca Raton "should accept nothing less than the highest level of ethics from their elected officials."

"I failed to live up to that standard and today accepted responsibility by entering my guilty plea," she wrote.n accepting the plea, prosecutors dropped the four felony charges that Haynie faced, including three counts of official misconduct.

As part of her plea, the 65-year-old will serve no time in jail, be fined $1,050 in addition having to pay to court costs and be on probation for 12 months. During her year of probation, she may not seek elected office and must complete 100 hours of community service.

A 2017 Palm Beach Post investigation discovered that Haynie failed to report income from James and Marta Batmasian on her state disclosure forms.

Haynie and her husband, Neil, collected thousands of dollars from the Batmasians through their property management firm, Community Reliance, while she was mayor, and Haynie voted on at least a dozen proposals that increased the Batmasians' property values.

Five months after The Post's investigation revealed Haynie's financial ties to the influential couple, the mayor was arrested. Haynie, a Republican who held elected office in Boca Raton for more than a decade, was charged with four felonies, including the three counts of official misconduct and a count of perjury, and the additional misdemeanor of misuse of an official position.

Investigators said Haynie falsified her state financial disclosure forms in 2014, 2015 and 2016, failing to report more than $330,000 in earnings, and allegedly lied under oath to county ethics investigators about her financial ties. Investigators said about a third of that income came from the Batmasians.

Haynie's case was scheduled to go to trial in March 2020, but it was pushed back to the summer a month prior due to scheduling issues. In the following weeks, coronavirus restrictions shut down jury trials for more than eight months.

Defense attorney Bruce Zimet said the plea was in everyone's best interest and noted the most serious charges against his client were dropped.

"Susan’s Haynie’s vote was never for sale or purchase. She was never involved in any corruption or misconduct whatsoever,” he said when reached by telephone Thursday.

David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor and now a defense attorney, said some of the most difficult things to prove in public corruption cases are the quid-pro-quos. Did a favor or money directly influence how an official voted, or was it unrelated entirely?

"One of the other difficulties of both sides is people have an idea on how they think their elected officials should ethically operate," said Weinstein, who represented former Palm Beach County commissioner Tony Masilotti after he pleaded guilty to federal honest-service fraud.

He said that though the state would have liked a conviction and the defense would have liked an outright acquittal in Haynie's case, a resolution was easier to reach now, given the remaining uncertainty of returning to a more regular schedule of jury trials as the coronavirus remains present.

"A good deal is where you’re unhappy on both sides," he said.

For Haynie and politicians who have had similar situations, he said their public-service careers are over because there is too much skepticism that comes in the wake of accusations, let alone a guilty plea or a jury conviction.

"(Other politicians) get tainted by this because people look at them and say politicians are for the taking and you can’t believe a word they say," he said.

Weinstein said it's another reason voters need to do research before casting their ballots.

In her apology, Haynie wrote that even once the conditions of her probation are completed, she does not plan to seek public office.

When asked about what Haynie plans to do in the future, Zimet said she's taking everything one year at a time. But, he reiterated her apology letter's message and said she has no interest in running for public office in the near future.

"I think she’s had enough of a taste of Palm Beach County politics," he said.