The Florida Commission on Ethics said it has found probable cause that Lantana Mayor David Stewart violated state statutes in a case where a resident alleged he said he’d “make sure” her neighborhood would get speed humps, which she was petitioning the town for, if she had sex with him.
The commission’s official statement, released Wednesday, said it found probable cause Stewart used or attempted to use his position to secure a benefit for himself and that he solicited something of value from a constituent with the understanding that his vote, official action or judgment would be influenced.
Stewart, Lantana’s mayor since 2000, has the option to settle the case or have a hearing before an administrative law judge to determine if he violated the statutes. There is no deadline for when that has to happen, said Kerrie Stillman, commission spokeswoman.
If he opts for the hearing, and it is determined he did violate the statutes, Stewart could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to removal from office. The most common penalty is a civil one, Stillman said. The penalty could be up to $10,000 per violation. The governor imposes the penalty based on the commission’s recommendation, she said.
Stewart has steadfastly denied the allegations.
He told a commission investigator, according to documents: “I think someone is trying to encourage her to do it. I don’t think that this was her idea.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Stewart said it is “inappropriate to comment at this time.”
But the resident accusing Stewart, Catherine Padilla, is calling for him to resign from his position as mayor.
“The mayor should be ashamed for what he did,” she said Thursday. “I think it’s time he steps down. He needs to be accountable for his actions and he needs to do the right thing and step down.”
Padilla added: “If there’s anybody else that has had this happen to them out there, please come forward now because it’s not too late.”
The Palm Beach Post previously reported Padilla filed the complaint with the commission Jan. 2, 2018, claiming that about three years ago Stewart said if she had sex with him he would make sure her neighborhood would receive speed bumps — a safety measure she had asked the town to install.
She said that Stewart drove her to a motel one day after they had lunch at Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill in Lake Worth and said he wanted to “occupy” a room with her, according to her complaint. She later told The Post the mayor said he wanted to have sex with her in the room. She told him “no” and did not get out of the car.
Padilla also said before the meeting in which the Town Council was to vote on whether to pay for the speed bumps that Stewart called her saying it wasn’t too late to sleep with him to guarantee her neighborhood would receive the safety measure, she said. Padilla said she again told him “no.”
The town did grant the traffic calming devices at an August 2015 council meeting. Before the vote, Padilla started a petition that was signed by about 71 percent of the residents in that area. The town determined through its analysis the neighborhood got enough traffic to warrant the safety bumps.
Padilla claims that after that vote, because she didn’t agree to have sex with Stewart and didn’t thank him for the approval of the speed humps, Stewart told her he’d make sure the humps were removed, according to documents.
The state commission notified Stewart of the complaint, per protocol. And on Jan. 11 of this year, Stewart went to Padilla’s home to talk about the complaint, according to the statement he gave to Lantana police. Padilla did not let him inside. Police described the visit as a “suspicious incident,” but took no further action.
During that visit to Padilla’s house, Stewart told police according to the report, he knocked on her side door and Padilla pulled the blinds closed and locked the door. While Padilla claims Stewart rattled the door, Stewart said he did not touch the door except to knock on it. He got into his vehicle and left.