Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh has been hit with an ethics complaint for hiring his daughter’s nonprofit to run his office’s “State of Orange County Real Estate” galas.
The complaint, brought against him by the campaign of his opponent, Edward DeAguilera, in the Nov. 8 election, charges Singh violated several ethics laws that prevent public officials from doing business with an agent owned or operated by a family member; solicitation or acceptance of gifts; and misuse of public position.
Singh denied he has broken any laws or done anything wrong, insisting that his daughter, Amrita Singh, used her nonprofit Florida Diversity Inc. to organize his meetings as “a labor of love” and received “not a penny” for doing so, and said it was a baseless allegation. Yet, he expressed that “in hindsight” he recognizes it was not a good idea. He charged the complaint is just the latest move in a nasty campaign trying to smear him.
DeAguilera sees it as far worse than not a good idea.
“This was done to benefit an organization that his daughter heads up and his wife is a staff member. And he’s doing it to promote himself,” DeAguilera said. “At the end of the day it’s wrongful. It’s unlawful. I’ve been in the charity world for a long time and that was a pretty good schtick he had going on.”
The issue surrounds a series of meetings Singh has organized at venues such as The Ballroom on Church Street in the past two years touting the state of real estate. The gala meetings have been paid for by private donations from sponsors including Universal Orlando, Florida Hospital, the Orlando Sentinel, and GrayRobinson, which each paid between $2,500 and $8,000 to be sponsors at individual events.
“At worst, the records indicate that Rick Singh corruptly used his official position and property and resources within his trust, and performed his official duties to secure a special privilege and benefit for Florida Diversity Inc.,” the complaint alleges. It also alleges the companies donating to sponsor the events might expect favoritism in return, or disfavor if they hadn’t.
Singh defended the events as a modern way to promote real estate, and compared them both in idea and organization to the state of city and state of county events presented by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs each year. The complaint, he said, is simply an extension of a smear campaign.
“This has been a concerted and organized effort to artificially sway the outcome of this election. They have tried to smear my reputation and really tried to paint me in the darkest of light,” Singh said.
“The criteria for me was finding a nonprofit that I could trust, a nonprofit where no one would make a penny from, a nonprofit that was totally volunteer,” Singh said. “My daughter had a nonprofit. I sought to use that nonprofit as an organizing sponsor. They took the money from sponsors and spent money on the event. The money that was left over was immediately given to charity.”
The race for the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office — Singh, a Democrat, is seeking a second term — has indeed been nasty, and much of the criticism so far of him has come from an outside group called “For A Better Orange County” that has spent $200,000 on TV commercials and mailers attacking him. That group’s money is dark, coming from a group called “Florida Regulatory Policy Initiative of Fort Myers,” which is not listed with the Florida Secretary of State’s office.
Singh’s supporters also have countered with ethics complaints against DeAguilera, claiming he has failed to properly disclose in his advertising that he is a Republican. The race is partisan, requiring full disclosures. DeAguilera has responded by declaring he has, in fact, fully and properly disclosed his party status in the race.