Meserve suspended after charges filed
Normal procedure for public officials Three months of investigating and a report from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) led to State Attorney Angela Corey charging a City Council member with operating as a real estate agent without a license, a third-degree felony. The charge stems from John Meserve’s alleged involvement in the sale of real estate connected to Mayport Village when he was chair of the Mayport Waterfront Partnership, which was created in 1997 “to bring economic revitalization to the eastern shore area of Duval County...includes the North Jacksonville Barrier Islands, Village of Mayport and Ft. George and Fanning Islands.” The State Attorney’s office contends that Meserve — the mayor of Atlantic Beach at the time — used his influence as a public official during the sale and received $105,000 as a result of the land sale. “I came into office a year ago with a commitment to aggressively investigate and prosecute public corruption,” said Corey. “Elected and appointed officials have a responsibility to maintain high standards of integrity in government.” Meserve’s attorney Andrew Kantor was unaware of the charges filed by the State Attorney’s Office Tuesday afternoon, but looked forward to his client’s day in court. “We welcome the opportunity to address that charge at the appropriate time,” said Kantor. “It’s unfortunate that there has been such media attention given our system, no one is presumed guilty based on comments of the DBPR. It raises a lot of concern as far as how they have portrayed this situation.” Meserve’s court date had not been set as of press time, but it appears he will not be allowed to continue his duties as a Council member while charges are pending. An Executive Order from Gov. Charlie Crist was handed down Tuesday to suspend Meserve from office while charges are pending. It is the hope that the damage that has been done to Mayport village and its residents is restored at some point and that Jaxport realizes that the property should be given back to the Mayport so that it can become what was envisioned back in 1997.
“We would suspend based on the felony charges,” said Sterling Ivey, spokesperson for the governor’s office. “Our normal procedure is to suspend based on the initial filing of charges.”
The charge against Meserve was filed after the State Attorney’s Office Special Prosecution Division’s investigation revealed that he did not disclose his private business relationship with the advisory board he held a leadership role with and he did not file timely financial disclosure forms with the State of Florida reporting his private interest in the matter. Meserve received the commission checks from Don Wolfson, a real estate broker working with Vestcor Cos., a Jacksonville land development firm. Vestcor had purchased about $10 million worth of waterfront property in Mayport.
Corey did foresee two challenges to the charges in court: statute of limitations and conflict of interest. The third-degree felony has a statute of limitations of three years, according to Corey, and the charge stems from incidents that occurred in 2005-06.
“We believe we can show a series of events that occurred that will be within that window,” said Corey, regarding the statute of limitations.
Corey also explained that her office did not believe that a conflict of interest was present in this case due to the fact that Erin Wolfson, an assistant state attorney in Corey’s office, is the daughter of Don Wolfson, who was involved in the real estate transactions with Meserve.
“Erin doesn’t work with the Special Investigations Division and had no involvement in this case,” said Corey. “We carefully reviewed any potential conflict in prosecuting John Meserve and do not see any (conflict) at this time.” If a conflict of interest was proven, then the governor would be required to select a special prosecutor for the case.