Sex for speed bumps: Ethics panel finds probable cause mayor propositioned resident

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Florida ethics officials last month found there was probable cause that the mayor of a town in Palm Beach County solicited sex from a constituent in exchange for putting speed bumps in the woman’s neighborhood.

The state Commission on Ethics announced Oct. 24 that a case could move forward against Lantana Mayor David Stewart, who commissioners believe "misused his position to attempt to obtain a sexual benefit for himself," a news release from the commission stated.

"Probable cause also was found to believe he solicited sex from a constituent based on an understanding his vote, official action or judgment would be influenced," the release said.

The finding does not mean a violation of ethics law took place, the commission warned.

“Such a determination is made only after a full evidentiary hearing on the allegations,” the release stated.

Stewart's accuser, Catherine Padilla, filed two complaints against the mayor earlier this year, one accusing him of making sexual innuendo during an October 2017 Kiwanis Club banquet and the second alleging that he'd offered to push through the speed bumps if she would have sex with him. The Palm Beach Post reported in June that the commission had dismissed the complaint about the banquet, which dealt with comments Padilla said she heard Stewart make to town manager Debbie Manzo.

Padilla, a 54-year-old caregiver for the elderly who has lived in Lantana for more than 30 years, told NBC News that she met Stewart three years ago while seeking speed bumps on her street, which is near both an elementary and middle school. She alleged that after having lunch together one day, he drove her to a motel and suggested they "occupy a room" together, commission documents obtained by the network stated.

Padilla said she declined, but that Stewart later called her several times and said he’d give her the speed bumps if she changed her mind. The final call came on the day she was scheduled to go before town officials to make her request.

"I said, 'Absolutely not. I'll take my chances,'" Padilla told NBC News. "And I went to plead my case and I said why we would like these speed bumps. It was unanimous. We were granted speed bumps."

Stewart called her the next day and grew angry when she did not thank him for the speed bumps, Padilla alleged. She said he threatened to have the approval revoked, but the speed bumps were installed a few months later.

Padilla filed the speed bump ethics complaint on Jan. 2. Stewart, who was notified of the complaint by the commission, went to her home on Jan. 11 to discuss the complaint, the Post reported. Padilla did not allow him inside her home, according to a report filed with the Lantana Police Department, which classified the visit as a "suspicious incident," the newspaper said.

The Ethics Commission news release said that commissioners can choose to hold a hearing when they believe a violation of the law has occurred. If a public official accused of a violation is found guilty, the commission can recommend civil penalties up to and including removal from office or employment and fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

Stewart, who the Post reported denied the allegations in June, could settle the case or go to trial. The mayor's attorney, Mark Herron, told NBC News that his client plans to clear his name in court.

"This is a case of 'he said, she said,' and the commission is unable to address these issues at probable cause hearing," Herron told the network. "We're going to let a judge judge the credibility of witnesses."

Padilla she wants Stewart to admit what he did and apologize.

"He's the mayor and he thinks he hasn't done anything wrong and acts like he's the victim," Padilla said. "He needs to step down for the safety and well-being of the town, so women don't have to go through that again."

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