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Fernandina Beach Senator Aaron Bean Cleared In State Ethics Probe

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Ryan Benk
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WJCT News

State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, has been cleared of wrongdoing in a state ethics investigation relating to his role in securing funding for a friend’s mental health project.

The Florida Ethics Commission probe concluded Bean did not improperly profit from state funding for medical-screening app CELPHIE developed by Nassau County-based Florida Psychological Associates.

Dr. Catherine Drew, who runs the psychological practice, asked for Bean’s help to secure $700,000, which was rejected during state budget negotiations. Bean and Drew’s husband, Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew, are childhood friends.

Carlos Slay, who unsuccessfully ran against Drew for the county tax collector job last year, filed the ethics complaint regarding the failed appropriation. Later, the Naples Daily News reported, $1 million for the project appeared in Florida State University’s budget — school President John Thrasher recently announced FSU is returning some of that money to the state.

According to the Naples Daily News, CELPHIE was found to fall short of state benchmarks, and FSU has returned less than half of the funds, around $300,000.

The Florida Ethics Commission did not find any indication that Bean helped sell the app across state lines, nor was he paid by Florida Psychological Associates to market the project in Florida.

John Drew appeared to ask Bean to do so in emails also revealed by the Naples Daily News. Bean told investigators he explicitly told the Drews doing so would be illegal.

Calls to Bean were not returned by this story’s deadline.

Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.