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Mike Greenwell, a Lee County commissioner and an Alva real estate investor, has been accused of an ethics violation over his former role as Lee Civic Center liaison given its 1-mile proximity to his personal property, recently rezoned to become a shopping center and apartment complex. 

Greenwell “is using his political power as a county commissioner to influence and structure decisions made by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, as well, and the respective ‘Advisory Boards’ to benefit his personal gains,” said the complaint, which was filed in June with the Florida Commission on Ethics in Tallahassee. 

Mike Greenwell

Although the complaint and its filer will not become public records until the ethics commission decides whether to pursue it, Gulfshore Business received a copy of the complaint and then identified and interviewed the filer. The ethics commission met Sept. 8, and the status of Greenwell’s complaint could be released Wednesday. 

Lifelong Lee County resident Carl Poole, 70, filed the complaint. He said he never has met Greenwell. 

“Anything that happens with the civic center, it enhances the sale of his property,” Poole said. “It will enhance his property. That’s the whole thing. Nothing else. If the other four commissioners had done everything, it would have been the end of the story. But he’s influencing the staff to do things. Taxpayer money enhancing his property. I didn’t do this for publicity. I didn’t do this for any reason other than what’s right or what’s wrong. 

“I have family and friends who live in that area,” he said. “I don’t like it when people do things that aren’t correct. This is strictly about what’s wrong and what’s right. If he had stayed away from being the liaison, I would have not been involved. That’s what the ethics complaint is about.”  

The timeline is as follows:  

  • Feb. 7: Greenwell volunteered to be the civic center’s liaison.  
  • April 18: Alva resident Amanda Cochran said during public comment at a commission meeting that Greenwell’s liaison role posed a potential conflict of interest.  
  • June 21: Greenwell’s 76-acre homestead was rezoned from agricultural to mixed-use commercial, allowing up to 400,000 square feet of commercial use and up to 122 apartment units.  
  • June 29: Greenwell received notice of the ethics complaint.  
  • Aug. 15: Greenwell stepped down as the civic center liaison. He did so after reading a prepared statement that said, “At this point, with the community involvement and the future board workshop to be held, we are on the path we need to be on. I’m going to recommend we eliminate the liaison role, because it is no longer needed. The entire board can move this issue forward. Along with staff in the future.”  

Greenwell did not respond to an email request for an interview. Approached for comment during a break at a county commission meeting, Greenwell declined.  

Built in 1978, the Lee Civic Center once held graduation ceremonies and concerts until falling into disrepair as the county left management of the property to the Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair Association board. It still hosts gun and recreational vehicle shows and other events, but the bleachers that once were inside are gone, and a decade has passed since the facility’s last concert. 

The 100th annual fair will be held as scheduled in February 2024. In recent years, the county considered other users for the property, including Kitson & Partners, ownership group of Babcock Ranch, which has had real estate dealings with Greenwell over the past 16 years. 

In June 2006, Greenwell bought the Diloreto family’s 46 acres off State Road 31—now Babcock Ranch Road—just north of the Caloosahatchee River, for $4 million. 

Diana Diloreto said she dropped the deed restrictions on the property at Greenwell’s request so he could put a fruit and vegetable stand there in addition to his family homestead. 

Instead, in September 2007, Greenwell sold the same property for $8 million to SW FL1B LLC, which is owned by Kitson & Partners, the owners of Babcock Ranch. 

Greenwell no longer owns that land, but his current homestead lies just to the north. 

Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers“Totally unethical to use his position as a Lee County commissioner to close any usage of the [civic center] for future development when he owns property within very close proximity,” Poole wrote in the complaint. 

The accusation marked the 10th filed against a Lee County commissioner since the system was put in place in 1974. Last year, there were 223 ethics complaints filed in Florida. Of those, 95 were dismissed for lack of legal sufficiency, two were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and 65 were ordered to be investigated, with 61 still pending the legal sufficiency. 

Disciplinary measures from the state over ethics complaints tend to be very rare. 

When they do happen, they could include a written reprimand, a fine and/or removal from office. But about 60% of complaints are dismissed as being legally insufficient. 

Once a complaint is filed, legal sufficiency must be determined. If it isn’t sufficient, the complaint is dismissed without investigation. If the complaint appears sufficient, the Commission’s staff would run a preliminary investigation before the Commission decides whether to take further action. 

As a Lee County commissioner in 1998 and again in 2006, John Albion had two ethics complaints filed against him. Both were dismissed as legally insufficient. 

Albion, who lost to Greenwell in the Republican primary for the District 5 commission seat, predicted an unlikely path for the complaint against Greenwell to result in any official reprimands. 

“The key to any ethics complaint is there has to be a benefit to the person being accused,” Albion said. “If there isn’t that, then what’s the ethics violation? Stupidity doesn’t count. 

“It’s not easy to prove unless it’s obvious. But you have to show that his property is going to benefit in a very likely way. So that therefore his interest in participating is for his own financial gain. And I’m not sure you can do that from a mile away.” 

But the complaint may result in some consequences, said Albion, now a commercial real estate broker with SVN. He believes his dismissed 2006 complaint—over a flight to Tallahassee he took on a Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office plane to meet with a state legislator—cost him an election when he ran for state legislator. He lost by 36 votes.  

“It’s hard not to believe that it didn’t cost me hundreds of votes if not more,” Albion said.  

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