Fernandina Beach Republican Senator Aaron Bean helped secure $1 million in state money for a friend’s mental health program, as reported last week by the Naples Daily News.
The appropriation was slipped into the Florida State University budget after lawmakers rejected outright a lesser amount for the same program. Now, the state Ethics Commission is investigating whether Bean profited from the deal, after a Fernandina Beach man filed an ethics complaint challenging Bean’s original ask.
MORE | Listen to the interview with Naples Daily News reporter Arek Sarkissian
Carlos Slay filed the complaint because he said simply asking for the $100,000 appropriation amounted to “pay for play,” but he had no idea that $1 million was eventually approved.
“Senator Bean, him and John Drew, collaborated on to get this money pushed through for Florida Psychological Associates health care … that’s my complaint — how he misused his office,” he said. “I was shocked when the Naples Daily News came out with the $1 million.”
Florida Psychological Associates is a mental health practice run by Fernandina Beach Dr. Catherine Drew. Her husband, John Drew, is the Nassau County Tax Collector.
Drew has pushed back on the Naples Daily News’ reporting and on Slay’s complaints. Echoing Bean, Drew said Slay is waging a politically-motivated campaign against her family after his failed 2016 electoral challenge to husband.
“We have a senator, like Senator Bean, who’s willing to stand up and be a state leader try to change (mental health funding in Florida) and his efforts are being twisted and used against him for cynical political motivations,” Drew said.
Drew also pushed back against more recent reporting detailing how her mental health project, CELPHIE, missed deadlines enumerated in her company’s contract.
Bean has confirmed the Florida Ethics Commission is investigating, though the commission itself cannot comment.
It’s not illegal for community members to lobby lawmakers for special appropriations, at issue in the investigation, however, is whether Bean planned to profit from the venture.
Emails from John Drew to Bean were published in the Naples Daily News.
“I am truly looking forward to this partnership and FINALLY everyone making money together from a product that will help the community,” Drew wrote.
Requests for an interview with Bean have not been returned.