State Sen. Lauren Book seeks restraining order to silence protester

By Francisco Alvarado,FloridaBulldog.org 

Derek Logue protesting in Tallahassee during Lauren Book’s rally for the charity Lauren’s Kids on April 22, 2015

As Broward State Sen. Lauren Book prepares for her annual walk to raise awareness about child sex abuse, she wants to make sure one of her harshest critics is nowhere near her.

On July 26, Sen. Book filed a petition in Broward Circuit Court seeking a restraining order against Derek Logue, a 40-year-old Ohio man convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in 2001. Logue today is an advocate for registered sex offenders.

You won’t find Sen. Book’s petition at the county courthouse. A clerk in the Broward court’s domestic violence division told a reporter it is confidential. The reason: Florida Statute 119 says that any documents that reveal the identity, address or phone numbers of a potential crime victim are exempt from Florida’s liberal public records law.

Florida Bulldog obtained a copy of her petition from Logue.

Sen. Book claims she fears for her and her family’s safety following physical threats Logue allegedly made against her online and in person during two public events in 2015 and 2016. In addition to seeking to bar Logue from showing up at her annual walk events, she wants to keep him from coming within 500 feet of her home and her offices.

But Broward Circuit Court Judge Michael G. Kaplan rejected Sen. Book’s request for a temporary restraining order on Aug. 9, noting there was insufficient evidence showing she was in immediate danger. A hearing on her request for a permanent restraining order is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Sen. Book declined comment, but her father, prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, told Florida Bulldog Logue has been harassing him and his daughter for roughly four years. “We had ignored his harassment because we don’t believe he is terribly relevant,” Book said. “He has little credibility.”

However, Book said the last straw occurred on July 8, when Logue tweeted “I think I found the official Laura Ahearn/ Lauren Book theme song” next to a link to a YouTube video for a song titled, “You Are A C—,” by Australian singer and comedian Kat McSnatch. Ahearn is executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law, a New York-based advocacy group for victims of sex crimes.

Ugly lyrics

Among its provocative lyrics is this ugly line: “Why don’t you shut that scabby c— mouth before I f— up your face.” The crude video also features an image of a tombstone that reads, “R.I.P. Annoying C—.”

According to Ron Book and Sen. Book’s petition, officials from several New York law enforcement agencies advised that Logue’s tweet was a credible death threat. “We were advised to contact local law enforcement and take steps to make sure that the encounters we’ve had with Mr. Logue don’t happen again. When you cross the line and threaten to f—k up someone’s face followed by ‘R.I.P.,’ that is a credible threat,” said Ron Book.

Lauren and Ron Book in Times Square in March 2015 promoting her child sex abuse education book. Photo from the documentary “Untouchable” by David Feige

Logue dismissed the Books’ accusations as “a load of hogwash.” He claims the petition is an attempt to stop him from exercising his First Amendment right to speak out against their lifelong campaign against registered sex offenders.

“It is easy to make me look like the bad guy because I am a registered citizen,” Logue told Florida Bulldog. “You may not like my choice of words. I do cuss and I do call people the C word. She is offended by it, but I don’t care. It’s protected free speech.”

He added, “She is simply trying to prevent me from raining on her little parade.”

Sen. Book is the founder and $135,000-a-year chief executive officer of Lauren’s Kids, a non-profit agency that has collected more than $10 million in grants from the Florida Legislature to fund an array of educational programs to convince victims and children advocates to report child sex crimes. However, the effectiveness of the programs have come under fire as Sen. Book has used Lauren’s Kids to elevate her public profile.

The Plantation Democrat, who was sexually abused as a teen by her former nanny, also makes an annual trek on foot from Key West to Tallahassee to raise awareness for child sex victims. This year’s walk is scheduled to begin on Sept. 9.

In her petition, Sen. Book claims that in 2015 Logue traveled to Tallahassee and organized a group of sex offenders in an attempt to disrupt the final mile of her annual walk. “The workers were warned in advance and they were able to keep the walk peaceful with the help of the Capitol Police, the Tallahassee Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” the petition says.

A year later, Logue traveled to New York City to attend a screening of the documentary Untouchable at the Tribeca Film Festival to harass Sen. Book during a question and answer session, the petition alleges. The Books are prominently featured in the movie about the impact of sex offender laws on individuals convicted of sex crimes.

“During the question and answer segment, he became unruly enough that his microphone was cut off and petitioner was surrounded by New York Police Department officers to protect her,” the petition states. Sen. Book claims she learned of Logue’s July 8 tweet after being contacted by an advocate for Parents of Megan’s Law who saw it and who filed a report with the New York field office of the FBI.

A rally planned for Miami

The petition also noted that Logue’s website OnceFallen.com and a Facebook page he is affiliated with is promoting a rally planned for Miami in September: “The coincidence is palpable.”

In his response to the petition and during an interview with Florida Bulldog, Logue said he has participated in and helped organize demonstrations across the country against sex offender registry laws and other legislation he believes discriminate against sex offenders who have done their time. He has also been interviewed on the topic by CNN, HLN and Russia Today, as well as local and regional news outlets, Logue said.

He said the 2015 demonstration in Tallahassee was peaceful even though Lauren’s Kids officials tried to report him for not registering with the state of Florida for the event. “I am free to travel anywhere in the United States of America,” Logue’s response states. “In fact, I made it a point to contact the Leon County Sheriff’s office to confirm that I would not need to register as a sex offender to visit for less than 48 hours to engage in a peaceful demonstration.”

Logue said he attended the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival because he had been interviewed for Untouchable, but the footage did not make into the documentary. He did make a brief appearance halfway through the film during scenes of the demonstration in Tallahassee. He said he only learned the Books were also in attendance when he arrived for the screening.

Logue said the documentary’s director David Feige asked him not to be too nasty to the Book family and he obliged. He denies disrupting the question and answer session. “I asked her why she preaches that sex offenders don’t deserve second chances when her father is also a convicted criminal that got second and third chances,” Logue said. “She made a snarky remark, I laughed and sat back down.”

On Sept. 21, 1995, Ron Book pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges and was fined $2,000 following a criminal investigation that found he violated state law by funneling more than $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions to at least a dozen county and state politicians.

Logue, who isn’t shy about owning up to his sex crime conviction, claims when he went to register in his home state in July, his registration officer told him someone claiming to be a state senator called to complain that he called her a c— and that she was offended by it. “I call a lot of people c—s,” Logue said. “I understand not everyone appreciates crude language. Yet, we elected a president that uses crude language and what not.”

Logue’s lawyer, Jamie Benjamin, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment. Sen. Book’s lawyer, Fort Lauderdale’s David Bogenschutz, said her role as a public official makes her a vulnerable target to threats of a violent nature.

“She and several law enforcement agencies believe [Logue’s behavior] crosses the line between what is protected by the First Amendment and threats that cause individuals to have legitimate concerns for themselves and their family members,” Bogenschutz said. “If it continues, and it has continued, we need the court’s intervention to draw the line for us.”

Ms. Book goes to Tallahassee, sees no conflict voting $ for Lauren’s Kids or dad’s clients

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Lauren and Ron Book in Times Square in March 2015 promoting her child sex abuse education book. Photo from the documentary “Untouchable” by David Feige

Freshman Broward State Sen. Lauren Book says she won’t abstain from voting on matters involving clients of her father, powerful lobbyist Ron Book. Similarly, she sees no conflict of interest in voting on measures to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to benefit her non-profit charity and political launching pad, Lauren’s Kids.

Book, a Plantation Democrat, offered her thoughts on the issue of personal voting conflicts in an email exchange last week with Florida Bulldog.

“No,” she said when asked if she plans to abstain from voting on any matters involving Ron Book’s clients. “In ALL matters, I will vote my conscience and in what I believe is best for my district, for Broward County, and for the people of the State of Florida.”

Sen. Book also said that Lauren’s Kids would again seek significant state funding during this year’s legislative session that began March 7. Does that mean she will abstain from voting on bills to authorize funding for her organization?

“No. I have met with the Counsel of the Senate and have been advised that it is proper that I do not abstain on these matters unless the funding directly inures to my benefit, which it will not,” Sen. Book said.

Lauren’s Kids, however, pays Sen. Book a six-figure annual salary for serving as its chief executive. In 2015, her salary was $135,000 – a $20,000 increase from 2014, according to the charity’s federal income tax returns.

“My salary is not paid for with any state funds,” said Sen. Book. “I derive no personal benefit from public tax dollars except knowing that these monies are being used to save lives, raise awareness and prevent childhood sexual abuse.”

Sen. Book said that to make certain her salary includes no state dollars, she “restructured my employment to ensure that no public dollars were used to compensate me for my work” once she declared her candidacy. She declined to elaborate on how she accomplished that restructuring and that separation.

Ron and Lauren Book at a Tallahassee rally promoting Lauren’s Kids in April 2015. Photo from the documentary “Untouchable” by David Feige

Sen. Book did say, however, that she resigned from the board of directors of the Lauren’s Kids Foundation “to add an additional (but entirely unnecessary) layer between myself and the Foundation.”

Lauren’s Kid’s tax return for 2015 – the latest available – shows the charity received more than 83 percent of its $4.5 million in total revenue that year from the state. Since 2012, records show, the state has contributed more than $10 million to Lauren’s Kids.

The Florida Department of Education has requested another $1 million in funding for Lauren’s Kids for Fiscal Year 2017-18 “so we can continue to educate children and families to prevent abuse and help survivors,” said Sen. Book. “I might add, the DOE would only recommend funding if as experts they believed the curriculum was of significant benefit to our children.’’

Ron Book as landlord

Lobbyist Ron Book, the senator’s father, is the unpaid president of Lauren’s Kids. Yet he also makes money from Lauren’s Kids. According to the 501(c) (3) organization’s 2015 tax return, he paid himself $61,651 for renting space to Lauren’s Kids in his Aventura office.

Ron Book, who is also on the charity’s board, collected $63,175 in rent from Lauren’s Kids in 2014, according to that year’s tax return.

Ron Book declined to comment.

On Wednesday, March 22, Sen. Book will face one of the first ethical tests of her nascent political career. As a member of the Florida Senate’s health policy committee, she will be evaluating five bills to establish the rules and regulations for the state’s medical marijuana industry.

While some patient and industry advocates argue the state should open up the market to competition, four of the bills discourage participation by more cannabis providers beyond the seven companies already licensed to manufacture a non-psychoactive, non-smokable form of the drug under a restrictive medical marijuana program set up by the Legislature in 2014.

Among the Florida licensed providers is a joint venture between Homestead-based nursery Alpha Foliage and Surterra, an Atlanta-based medical marijuana company that employs the senator’s father Ron Book as its Tallahassee lobbyist.

While government watchdogs said Sen. Book should abstain from voting on any matters involving her father, she told Florida Bulldog she has no intention of doing so because Florida law and Senate rules do not prohibit it.

“As I stated above, I will follow the letter and spirit of the law in how I vote and how I conduct my business,” she said.

Conflict questions loom

Still, questions about Sen. Book’s potential vote conflicts involving both her father’s 100-plus clients and Lauren’s Kids loom large.

Ben Wilcox, research director for the government watchdog organization Integrity Florida, noted that because Florida has a citizen legislature that allows members to have outside employment, the bar is set low when it comes to ethical requirements.

Florida’s weak Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees says that state officers “may not vote on any matter that the officer knows would inure to his or her special gain or loss.” It does not prohibit such votes. Rather, the code says vaguely that officers who vote to benefit themselves or a relative “shall make every reasonable effort to disclose the nature of his or her interest in a public memorandum” that can be filed up to 15 days after the vote.

Integrity Florida Research Director Ben Wilcox

Sen. Book, nevertheless, could face questions when it comes time to vote on an appropriations bill that would include Lauren’s Kids, which advocates against child sex abuse.

“You are not supposed to vote on something that has a direct benefit to you personally,” said Wilcox. “That is where she may get into some trouble if her organization is getting an appropriation from the Legislature.”

Wilcox said Book should also be mindful about voting on matters favorable to her father’s clients. “She should be sensitive to the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Wilcox said. “Even if it technically is not a conflict, it raises questions in the public’s mind and causes the public to lose confidence in government.”

Since founding Lauren’s Kids 10 years ago, Book has seemed on a trajectory for public office. In addition to appearing before the Legislature to lobby in favor of laws that crack down on sexual predators and child abusers, Book has led an annual walk from Key West to Tallahassee to raise awareness for child sex victims that receives statewide media coverage. She’s also written two books, including one for children, about her own experience being sexually abused by her former nanny. Book and her father had a starring role in the recently released documentary about Florida’s sex offender laws called Untouchable.

Book, 32, decided to run for the Senate seat previously held by Eleanor Sobel, who left the Legislature in 2016 due to term limits. After raising more than $1.5 million through her campaign and her political action committee, Leadership for Broward, Book automatically won the seat when no one filed to run against her. A Bulldog analysis of her 2015 and 2016 campaign finance reports and her father’s client list show she received $35,000 from 15 entities that employ Ron Book.

Clients and contributions

Of that amount, her campaign received $1,000 apiece from two of Surterra’s owners, Michael Havenick and Alexander Havenick, who is also vice president and general counsel for Southwest Florida Enterprises, a company that owns several pari-mutuels in the state, including Magic City Casino in Miami. Southwest, four affiliated companies and four other Havenicks also each gave the $1,000 maximum to Sen. Book’s campaign.

According to 2016 lobbyist compensation reports filed with the state, Ron Book’s law firm was paid between $40,000 and $80,000 by Surterra to lobby the Legislature. Ron L. Book P.A. also received approximately $30,000 from Surterra to lobby the executive branch.

Lauren’s Kids has also been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in state funding. According to the organization’s 2014 tax return, Lauren’s Kids received $2.7 million in state grants. Its 2015 tax return shows the nonprofit got $3.4 million that year from Florida’s Department of Education. In 2016, records show, the Legislature awarded Lauren’s Kids $1 million.

A Lauren’s Kids insert in a Florida Department of Motor Vehicles registration renewal.

Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles also contributes to Lauren’s Kids via the sale of specialty license plates approved by the Legislature. Lauren’s Kids, which got its specialty tag in 2013, received $294,653 from the DMV in 2015, tax records show.

Further, the DMV allows Lauren’s Kids to insert a brochure asking for donations in every auto tag renewal notice mailed to Florida residents. Lauren’s Kids is one of several nonprofits eligible to insert their brochures under the specialty tag program.

Beth Rosenson, a University of Florida political science professor who teaches a course on ethics in U.S. politics, said in an interview that Book might derive a benefit from her father’s earnings as a lobbyist. “Parents always help out their kids,” Rosenson said. “Let’s say she had a medical emergency or something in which she needed money so her father’s financial situation is not something that is totally separate from hers.”

Rosenson said Sen. Book’s potential for conflict is analogous to President Donald Trump and his sons, who have taken over the Republican billionaire’s companies while he’s in the White House. “In a perfect world, she would realize that her relationship with her father raises questions of conflict of interest,” Rosenson said. “So ideally, yes she should recuse herself.”

When it comes to Lauren’s Kids, Integrity Florida’s Wilcox said even if Book’s salary is not being paid with state funds, she should still abstain from voting on matters involving her nonprofit. “In an abundance of caution, that is something she may want to reconsider,” Wilcox said. “While technically it may be correct, I don’t think it will look good to the public.”

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