Van Zants agree to pay fines after Commission on Ethics investigation

A former state representative who once accused county leaders of widespread corruption agreed to pay a fine after the state’s ethics committee investigated him and his wife.

Former state Rep. Charles Van Zant and his wife, Katherine Van Zant, a one-time candidate for the state House seat her husband once possessed, consented to pay fines instead of further investigation, according to documents released Wednesday afternoon by the state Commission on Ethics.

The Van Zants were part of a Commission on Ethics investigation into improper financial disclosures.

According to Commission on Ethics documents, Katherine Van Zant, who lost in the August Republican primary for the state House District 19 seat, agreed to pay a $500 fine. Katherine Van Zant was running for the House seat her husband vacated in November because of term limits.

Charles Van Zant, who spearheaded a state audit into Putnam County and Palatka amid accusations of corruption, agreed to pay a $1,750 fine, according to Commission on Ethics documents.

A hearing to determine whether the Commission on Ethics will accept the agreement is set for Jan. 27 in Tallahassee.

The Commission on Ethics released its upcoming meeting’s agenda and information packet Wednesday, which included detailed investigative reports into the Van Zants’ financial disclosures.

According to the documents, Putnam County Commissioner Chip Laibl filed a complaint against Katherine Van Zant, and Laibl and former state House District 19 Republican candidate Leslie Dougher filed complaints against Charles Van Zant.

Laibl said he filed his complaints after Charles Van Zant spurred a state investigation into Palatka and Putnam County finances. Charles Van Zant compared Putnam County and Palatka to Hampton, a small town that was investigated by the state audit committee and led to a finding of 31 violations of local, state and federal laws.

“I remember the quote, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,’” Laibl said. “He goes on a witch hunt claiming the same kind of corruption existed in Putnam County, and it infuriated me, because I work with a lot of honorable and honest people who are trying to do the best with what we’ve got.

“So I just did a check of his house and found inadequate paperwork and things. To quote him back, ‘I found fire.’”

Laibl said his decision to file a complaint wasn’t political, which is why he didn’t publicize it.

“I could have asked for it to go public, but I didn’t,” Laibl said. “I waited. … I knew it would come out sooner or later, and I’m glad it’s out. It’s what’s fair.”

Commission on Ethics documents reveal Charles Van Zant was accused of not listing a condominium on his financial disclosure forms. After updating his financial disclosure form, according to the ethics commission, his financial disclosure form was still incomplete.

“The public was deprived of access to information to which it was entitled via the original financial disclosure form,” according to Commission on Ethics documents.

Charles Van Zant told ethics commission investigators the condominium – located in Clay County – was supposed to be property owned by Columbia Properties, a limited liability company owned by Charles Van Zant. Charles Van Zant provided a letter by his attorney who admitted the error. But Charles Van Zant also paid property taxes for the condominium and “did not realize that the property was left in his and his wife’s name until (the) ethics complaint was filed, because he did not look at the details of the tax statement,” according to ethics commission’s investigative report.

The condominium, according to updated disclosure forms, was valued at $35,090 in 2015, but was valued as high as $50,701 in 2012.

In Dougher’s complaint, she also cited Charles Van Zant’s condominium and failure to disclose it on his financial reports. She also accused of Charles Van Zant of a “fraudulently claimed homestead exemption” in Bradford County. Charles Van Zant paid a fine of $8,716.28 in August after the Bradford County property appraiser accused the Van Zants of claiming a homestead exemption on a house in which they did not reside.

The ethics commission did not investigate the homestead exemption, because it said Dougher’s complaint failed to cite possible violations of state statutes.

In the report about Katherine Van Zant, she was also tagged with failing to disclose a condominium jointly owned by her and her husband. Additionally, she listed a closely held business valued at $228 while the form states only closely held businesses valued above $1,000 should be listed.

A report said Katherine Van Zant told investigators her husband completed her financial disclosure forms because he had “experience in completing financial disclosure forms.” The report revealed Charles Van Zant “acknowledged that he failed to properly identify bank and investment accounts on his wife’s” forms.

“He maintains that he failed to list each of these assets separately because he did not read the instructions prior to completing the disclosure form,” the investigative report said.

Calls to the Van Zants were not returned Wednesday.