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Property appraiser admits porn texts with fired employee

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:15 PM
TAMPA -

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner is locked in a seamy dispute involving a former employee he once dated and with whom he traded pornographic text messages.

Carolyn Filippone was the property appraiser's human resources manager until Turner fired her Monday. Turner said he fired Filippone because she lied in a discrimination complaint she filed against him with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2010.

"The entire claim she filed is comprised of false allegations," Turner said Tuesday.

Filippone, 49, says in her complaint that Turner diminished her job duties because she rejected his requests for sex. The EEOC dismissed Filippone's complaint in April, saying the agency could not conclude the property appraiser had violated federal anti-discrimination laws.

But the complaint could form the basis for a civil lawsuit. Turner, 60, denies most of the complaint's allegations, though he admits he and Filippone had an affair while she worked for him. Turner said it ended in 2001;Filippone says the relationship lasted until 2006.

Turner also confirmed Filippone's charge that they exchanged pornographic text messages and links to pornographic sites after Turner married his current wife, Donna, in July 2007.

"I make no excuses, it was a personal mistake," Turner said Tuesday during an interview in his office. "I apologize to my family, to my constituents."

Filippone could not be reached for comment.

The complaint contained explosive details that could impact Turner's re-election bid. According to Filippone, Turner sent her e-mails with images of his genitalia and of anal sex. As recently as 10 days before she filed the complaint on March 22, 2010, Turner had inquired about her breasts, Filippone said in the complaint.

Turner admitted sending Filippone e-mails with graphic sexual content, though he denies they contained any photos of his body. On the accusation he had inquired about Filippone's breasts, Turner said it was Filippone who "out of the blue" announced that she had new breast implants.

He said the e-mails were consensual by both parties.

"She sent as much of that stuff to me as I did to her," Turner said.

When asked whether voters should question his judgment and maturity in sending the messages, Turner replied that the textual sex games never spilled over into the work of the property appraiser's office. The messages were all sent on personal computers or cell phones, he said, before or after business hours.

"It had absolutely no effect on the outstanding performance of this office," he said.

Filippone's complaint centers on her transfer from the property appraiser's downtown office to a Brandon satellite office. After the transfer, Filippone says in the complaint, she was excluded from important meetings and changes were made to policies affecting her area of responsibility.

"In practical effect, some duties have been taken away and I have been banished from the county government center," Filippone said in her complaint.

Further, Filippone alleged that Turner exiled her at his wife's direction after she discovered the e-mail exchanges in February 2009.

"I was told I cannot go to social events, cannot be in a meeting that Mr. Turner attends and cannot go to the county government center for personal or professional reasons without permission because Mr. Turner agreed with his wife that I would be so restricted," Filippone said in her filing.

Turner denies Filippone's version of events. Filippone kept her office in the Frederick B. Karl County Center after she was transferred to Brandon, Turner said, and she attended a number of social events, including the funeral of a fellow employee's spouse. To prove the last point, Turner's lawyers submitted a sign-in sheet from the funeral home with Filippone's signature. Photos of Filippone at office gatherings were also given to the federal agency.

On the issue of Filippone's transfer to Brandon, Turner said he wanted the Human Resources Department and all its records located in a building less vulnerable to hurricane damage than the county center. State rules require that employee records be maintained for 99 years after an employee retires.

Turner and Filippone worked together at NationsBank prior to his first election as property appraiser in November 1996. She came to work at the property appraiser's office in 1997 as training director. While working for Turner, Filippone earned an associate's degree and bachelor's degree in business.

A series of promotions over the years elevated Filippone to her last position as head of human relations, customer service and education and training. Her final salary was about $98,000 a year, according to Warren Weathers, deputy chief property appraiser.

Though he said their romantic relationship ended in 2001, Turner said he and Filippone remained friendly for years afterward, occasionally having lunch or after-work drinks together. That ended when his wife found the explicit texts.

Turner, a Republican, is seeking re-election as property appraiser in November. He has two challengers so far: Democrat James DeMio and Rob Townsend, who is running with no party affiliation. Turner has raised $32,560 for his re-election campaign. Townsend has raised $650 and DeMio has yet to file a campaign finance report.


msalinero@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8303

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