TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A former state legislator tapped by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to help oversee the state’s powerful utility industry abruptly resigned from his post Monday after being accused of sexual misconduct by a Republican state senator.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said in a statement that Ritch Workman had touched her inappropriately and made “vulgar” comments to her at a charity event in 2016.
“Workman approached me from behind, pushed his body up against me and made vulgar and inappropriate gestures,” said the Fort Myers Republican. “I immediately asked him to stop. He continued to make vulgar and inappropriate comments and gestures until other attendees intervened. I found his conduct to be abhorrent.”
Scott had appointed Workman, a Republican from Melbourne, to a $131,000 a year job on the Public Service Commission. He was scheduled to start work in January.
Workman’s position was subject to Senate confirmation. Senate President Joe Negron said as a result of the allegations against Workman that he would not be confirmed. Workman called the governor’s office and resigned within minutes of Benacquisto releasing her statement.
“The governor has consistently said that any misconduct cannot be tolerated,” said Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Scott. “He supports his decision to resign.”
Workman said he did not recall the incident, but said “all I can do is humbly apologize to her.”
“Out of respect for her, I don’t want to be a distraction to the Legislature and the governor,” Workman said.
Benacquisto, who holds a top position in the state Senate and is ally of Negron, had a private meeting with Scott and his chief of staff back in early November. Scott’s office refused to comment on what was discussed during the meeting, including whether or not the senator talked about Workman.
Scott picked Workman from a list of nominees given to him by a nominating panel controlled by the state Legislature. Workman, who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate in 2016, had been working for Keiser University since 2013. He gained a bit of attention in 2015 when it was discovered that he was working as a driver for the ride-sharing service Uber while still a legislator.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor relied on the nominating council to look at qualifications and the backgrounds of candidates.
“Our office relies on this committee to provide names of qualified applicants which have been vetted and thoroughly reviewed by the nominating commission,” said Tupps. “This vetting process includes a background screening conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”
Workman’s abrupt resignation comes as the state Capitol has been thrown into turmoil due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
GOP Sen. Jack Latvala has been accused by six women of groping or making demeaning comments about their bodies. The Florida Senate is investigating Latvala. Latvala has denied the allegations, but last week one of his anonymous accusers went public. Rachel Perrin Rogers is a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson and her husband is a prominent GOP consultant.
Simpson put out a statement on Monday that said his aide is “trusted and valued member of my team for more than five years.”
Gov. Scott has called Latvala “a distraction” and has said that he should resign if the allegations against him are true.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.