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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 6, 2004 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: former real estate development lawyer Cynthia Henderson faces repeated grilling Fifth Third Corp. has paid the highest premium for an American bank since the beginning of last year Unfounded complaints

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Please come home

Ever since former real estate development lawyer Cynthia Henderson left Tampa for the media hothouse of Tallahassee, her life has turned into a pilot episode for a soap opera.

Henderson originally went to the state capital to run the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation for Gov. Jeb Bush. That was a trouble-filled assignment.

News reporters scorched Henderson for jetting off to the Kentucky Derby on a plane owned by a company she regulated and for renting a house from a lobbyist for clients with business before her agency.

Bush may have thought moving Henderson to the Department of Management Services would take her out of the line of fire. But her privatization efforts rankled state employees and auditors found irregularities in technology contracting.

By early last year, Henderson, 43, had had enough of ethics scrapes in the public sector. She became a lobbyist.

Within a few months, however, Henderson was in hot water again. Lucy Morgan, Tallahassee bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times, caught Henderson lobbying the Department of Management Services too soon after leaving her old agency and without registering to represent a computer company.

But all of that was just the warm-up. Last month, the Times was back with another report that Henderson had been issued a restraining order to protect the attorney from her new husband, who allegedly discovered her in bed with another lobbyist whose clients include Hillsborough County government.

Coffee Talk has some free advice for Henderson. How about coming back to Tampa? No guarantees for the future, but she didn't get nearly as much bad press when she worked around here the first time.

The most controversial thing that Henderson did in these parts was put herself through Stetson University's law school working as a Playboy bunny. And we've almost forgotten.

Fifth Third is first

Now that Fifth Third Corp. has paid the highest premium for an American bank since the beginning of last year, how long before the Cincinnati banking company starts to make money from the First National Bank of Florida franchise? The answer: A good long time.

Fifth Third's Aug. 2 announcement that it will acquire First National Bankshares of Florida Inc. for about $1.6 billion had to have made a lot of jaws drop along the Gulf Coast.

Granted, the parent of First National Bank owns the biggest bank based in Florida, with $5.3 billion in assets, taking into consideration pending acquisitions that include First Bradenton Bank. And, according to SNL Financial, First National is the third largest bank by deposits in its hometown of Naples, fourth in the Fort Myers market, ninth in the Sarasota market, and 10th in the Tampa Bay area.

But was it all worth nearly six times the tangible book value of First National? The price tops Fifth Third's own 2001 purchase of Tennessee's Franklin Financial Corp. for about five times tangible book, according to Hovde Financial LLC, a co-adviser to First National.

Fifth Third President and Chief Executive George A. Schaefer Jr. thinks it was worth the multiple. "This acquisition provides Fifth Third with a tremendous opportunity in the state of Florida, among the fastest growing deposit markets in the United States," Schaefer says in a news release.

It will definitely be a good opportunity for an employee of the new combination, First National Chairman and CEO Gary L. Tice, who is staying on for a while with Fifth Third.

The employment contract of the 56-year-old Tice calls for him to receive payments of $3.75 million when he turns over the keys to Fifth Third, which is expected to take place early next year. Plus, Tice will be getting Fifth Third stock currently valued at approximately $14.4 million for his 1.2% stake in First National.

Unfounded complaints

When he started campaigning months ago, Hillsborough Judge Paul Huey publicized he had not been reversed on appeal since his appointment 20 months ago. That changed on July 9 when the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued an opinion in Malone v. Percival (2004 WL 15309). So just as any opponent might do, county judge candidate Victor H. Veschio filed a complaint against Huey with the newly formed Hillsborough County Judicial Campaign Practices Committee.

In its first official action, the committee absolved Huey of the infraction because he promptly corrected his judicial record on campaign literature and his Internet site.

"Once Judge Huey was made aware of the pendency of the Malone case, he acted within a reasonable time to correct his Web site and campaign literature," the eight-member committee concluded.

Veschio, a creditor's rights attorney at Nixon & Associates PA, also challenged Huey on an endorsement issue. It seems Tampa political consultants Gordon and April Schiff listed Huey as a client without his knowledge on their Web site (www.sstflorida.com). When the committee asked him about it, Huey also promptly asked the Schiffs to remove his name.

"It is the candidate's reaction to this act that is significant in determining whether a violation occurred," the committee concluded. "In this instance, the committee concluded that Judge Huey, once informed, responded promptly and appropriately."

'You're it'

Tampa attorneys Steve Burton and Tom Scarritt are polar opposites on the political scale. Burton is an avowed Republican who has the ear of influential political leaders such as House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City. Scarritt is a long-time Southern Democrat born in Florida's Apalachicola region. But the two forged a common bond and friendship over the years during their work as trial attorneys.

It seems Byrd recently sought Burton's recommendation on an appointment to the Florida Ethics Commission, the agency charged with investigating the misdeeds of state elected and appointed officials. Just as a good party man, Burton, managing partner of Broad & Cassel's Tampa office, recommended a Republican. We're not sure who.

To Byrd's lament, state law requires him to appoint a Democrat in this instance. With that in mind, Burton recommended Scarritt. The appointment went through Aug. 4, confirms Bonnie Williams, the commission's executive director.

"(Burton) says, 'You were not my first pick,' " says Scarritt, president of the Scarritt Law Group. " 'I nominated a Republican but was told it had to be a Democrat. So if it has to be a Democrat, you're it.' "

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