Saturday, June 20, 2020

Florida’s top Democrat purges ‘inner circle’ after police escort her fiancé from hotel. (Politico)

I'm uncomfortable with reporting on people's private lives, but this one seems justified.  We have a Right to Know if a rich marijuana businessman has an abusive relationship with Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried, resulting in police action in Ft. Lauderdale.

From Politico:

Nikki Fried | Getty Images
Nikki Fried speaks at a campaign rally in Miami. | Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Florida’s top Democrat purges ‘inner circle’ after police escort her fiancé from hotel 

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried dismissed three top aides just before midnight Thursday, citing their complaints that her fiancé was “abusive” to her during a weekend argument at a Fort Lauderdale resort where police escorted him off the property.
Fried, the state’s top elected Democrat, told aides by text message late Wednesday that they could no longer be in her “inner circle” but offered to find them “other roles." She said it “breaks my heart” they believed her fiancé was abusive during the incident, which occurred Saturday at the Westin Beach Resort and Spa. No one was hurt.
POLITICO obtained copies of Fried’s texts and the Fort Lauderdale police report.
The upheaval spilled into public view Thursday morning after Fried’s top political adviser, Eric Johnson, told POLITICO he was resigning from Fried’s political committee.
Fried accused Johnson of political retribution and said he had been fired. 
Her fiancé, medical marijuana entrepreneur Robert “Jake” Bergmann, in a text to POLITICO said he was not abusive to Fried.
Tensions in Fried’s political operation have brewed for months over her sometimes-stormy romantic relationship, according to Johnson, who said he decided to speak out because he was concerned about Fried’s well-being.

“Nikki Fried has unlimited potential for what she can do, personally and as a politician,” Johnson said in an interview. “I think what has happened with her in this relationship is causing her to not be able to function, and eventually it could get her very, very hurt. On many occasions, she has described to me and other senior staff her relationship as mentally abusive, and on Saturday she called it physically abusive.”
“I simply can't stand by and watch it happen,” Johnson said.
Fried’s staff upheaval hits the Florida Democratic Party as the battleground state prepares for the final months of the 2020 presidential campaign. Party leaders have been buoyed by a sense of momentum in Florida, the newly adopted home of President Donald Trump, as Democratic candidate Joe Biden gains an edge in public polls. 
As the only statewide elected Democrat, Fried is Florida’s de facto party leader and is seen by political insiders as a key player in the 2020 election. She is considered a contender for governor or U.S. Senate, perhaps as early as 2022.
“I’m a 42-year-old, independently strong female and would never allow somebody to put their hands on me and to abuse me,” Fried said in an interview. “This is Eric’s retribution. He has never agreed with Jake, has tried to kick him out of [my political] circles, and has refused to allow him to have an opinion or role in our politics.”
The crisis came to a head about an hour after midnight Saturday, when Fort Lauderdale police responded to a call from the Westin Beach Resort and Spa. There, security staff complained that Bergmann had “caused several disturbances through the hotel and needed to have him evicted and trespassed from the property,” according to the police report.
The report did not specify the nature of the disturbance, but Johnson said Fried told him that Bergmann was in a fender-bender in the parking lot and that the two later had an argument.
Johnson said Fried told him Saturday afternoon that Bergmann “shoved her into the street” on State Road A1A. Johnson said Fried told him that a security guard witnessed the shove. 
Fried said that Bergmann did not shove her.
Fried acknowledged that the argument with Bergmann should “never” have escalated to “any point that Jake would be escorted off a piece of property, but it does not rise to any levels of verbal or emotional abuse.”
When asked about the shoving allegation, the security guard told POLITICO he could not comment and did not want to lose his job or get sued.
According to the police report, Bergmann was cooperative and gathered his belongings as he was escorted from the hotel.
“Bergmann was notified if he returned to the property he could be subject to arrest,” the police report said.
Fried in the interview dismissed the argument between her and Bergmann as a quarrel.
Fried’s staff learned of the incident almost immediately, when Bergmann sent a text message at 1:29 a.m. Saturday to Johnson, two other Fried political aidesnand three people in Fried’s state office, according to a copy of the message.
“Please take me off these threads. I am leaving Florida. And Nikki and I are [breaking] up as of tonight. All she cares about is her career. Good luck with that,” Bergmann texted.
Throughout the week, Fried’s advisers urged her to end the relationship, according to Johnson and a second person with knowledge of the dispute who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
At 11:13 p.m. Wednesday, Fried instead parted ways with Johnson, an office aide and a fundraiser.
“It breaks my heart that you each thought Jake was abusive,” Fried said in a text message to the group, which Johnson shared with POLITICO. “Do we have issues, obviously yes. Does he drive everyone crazy sometimes, yes. But he is the love of my life....”
“The journey has been difficult for all of us, but personal relationships are more important than professional relationships,” Fried wrote. “So we are making a change. While I know you will blame Jake for this, but don’t--we need to fix us and that means making some changes.”
“We will find other roles and jobs for all of you, just not in our inner circle,” Fried wrote. 
Fried in the interview said that Johnson manipulated her two other aides. On Thursday, she said both aides will keep jobs with her, and only one will be removed from her inner circle.
Johnson denied Fried’s characterization of his actions. Two other Democrats who have spoken with Fried told POLITICO they shared Johnson’s concerns. They declined to speak on the record out of fear of retribution.
Bergmann, in a text message to POLITICO, said he and Fried are not in an abusive relationship.
“This is some oddly placed retribution directed at me because I have not been a believer in Eric’s abilities for sometime, and was very candid with him and Nikki about that,” Bergmann wrote. “Nikki and I love each other and are not in an abusive relationship. Nikki is the strongest, most independent woman I have ever met, I am in awe of her accomplishments and I am disgusted someone would go to these lengths to try and hurt her. I love her and will always support her.
Fried’s relationship with Bergmann, a founding partner of the medical marijuana company Surterra Wellness, almost became a political liability during her 2018 race for agriculture commissioner, during which she campaigned to expand the power of the office to regulate his industry.
Fried’s regulatory push ultimately failed, but her advisers increasingly considered her relationship with Bergmann a liability as she complained to them about his behavior, Johnson and another adviser said.
Johnson, a Florida Democratic consultant, said he has several clients and could have gone along with the plan to be reassigned. But someone needed to speak out, he said.
“Everyone around her that is close to her is watching a personal self-destruction and it's just sad,” he said. “People care about her. And everyone hopes it's not too late to get the train back on track.”
Bergmann, who is still married, and Fried bought a home in the wooded Tallahassee neighborhood of Killearn Acres in February 2019, according to county land records.
Bergmann joined Surterra Wellness in November 2015 as the company prepared to purchase one of Florida’s first low-THC licenses from a South Florida nursery called Alpha Foliage. He was one of five partners in the Delaware-based company that moved to Tallahassee in March 2017, Florida business records show. Surterra moved its headquarters to Atlanta in 2018 and later changed its name to Parallel. Bergmann severed ties with the company in July 2018.
Bergmann contributed a total of $60,000 to a political action committee, Florida Consumers First, that was later run by Johnson and supported Fried’s successful campaign for agriculture commissioner. He gave another $6,000 directly to Fried’s campaign, Florida elections records show.
Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon contributed to this report.

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