BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott this afternoon suspended Boynton Beach Mayor José Rodriguez following his arrest Thursday on charges that he used his position to try to kill an abuse investigation into his treatment of his estranged wife and her daughter by bullying the police chief and offering the city's interim manager a full-time gig in exchange for help in interrupting the probe.
The governor's executive order suspended the mayor "until a further executive order is issued, or as otherwise provided by law."
City Attorney James Cherof had alerted the governor's office of the arrest this morning, at the same time he sent city commissioners a synopsis of the mayor's status.
Cherof explained that by state law, only the governor can suspend a municipal official. Should Scott do that, Cherof told commissioners, the commission would be expected to either appoint someone to fill Rodriguez' seat or call a special election The next city commission meeting is Feb. 7. Rodriguez' term runs to March 2013.
In court documents, the State Attorney's Office charged Rodriguez, 49, with unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, solicitation to commit unlawful disclosure of confidential criminal information and obstruction of a law-enforcement officer.
The charges carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
The mayor's arrest roiled the city's political establishment and offered a glimpse into a city hall authorities say is rife with backbiting and vicious confrontations between top officials.
It also jeopardizes the political career of the high-profile leader of the county's third largest city, a man who twice was considered to fill vacant seats left by disgraced county Commissioners Warren Newell and Mary McCarty.
Rodriguez left the Palm Beach County Jail tonight, hours after he was booked on felony and misdemeanor charges. He proclaimed his innocence to reporters and photographers.
Later, in an email to The Palm Beach Post, he elaborated: "This is totally out of line. No good deed goes unpunished. These charges are ridiculous and are a result of challenging the status quo in police and government. My name will be vindicated in court."
He didn't say whether he planned to remain in office.
His attorney, Kenneth Lemoine, said in a statement that the mayor will plead not guilty and "will vigorously fight these charges."
The charging document portrays the mayor as a volatile bully who at one point screamed through the phone at city police Chief Matt Immler, trying to quash the child-abuse investigation.
In one instance, the documents allege, Rodriguez took interim City Manager Lori LaVerriere aside after discussing his displeasure with police and told her: "It is your job to protect the mayor and commission, and I'm not feeling protected."
Then, as she was leaving the vacant office in which the exchange occurred, he said: "And in return you will get the same" - evidence, authorities said, that he tried to influence LaVerriere.
As mayor and a voting member of the city commission, Rodriguez effectively blocked the hiring of LaVerriere, appointed interim city manager after Kurt Bressner resigned in June. A vote to approve her for the post fell short of the needed 4-1 majority. Rodriguez was one of the two dissenters.
The mayor's troubles started in August, according to the documents, when his estranged wife, Sarah Marquez, went to the police chief with a disturbing story: She said Rodriguez had hit her 11-year-old daughter and had made an "inappropriate sexual" comment, allegations the mayor denied.
The complaint started a series of investigations, which enraged Rodriguez, according to the documents. Interviewed by public corruption investigators early Thursday, Rodriguez denied interfering with the city police child-abuse probe.
City commissioners either declined to comment or didn't return calls tonight, except for Steven Holzman, who said: "I'm hoping this is simply a misunderstanding. I have a hard time believing that Jose, the mayor, used his position in any way that was unlawful."
Aside from Rodriguez, no one directly involved in the incidents leading to his arrest would comment Thursday. Immler said he expected to make a statement after meeting with prosecutors today .
LaVerriere referred questions to a city spokeswoman, who declined to comment.
Marquez, 39, who has moved out of state, declined to comment when reached by phone.
Her rocky relationship with the mayor has been documented in police reports and court filings almost since the start of their marriage.
She twice has filed for a divorce but dropped both cases. On Jan. 16, Marquez told The Post that she had filed again because Rodriguez's work as mayor had caused stress and that she was unemployed and in need of money. She added: "My husband has prioritized his political career and not his family. I'm praying that he realizes that his family is more important and he's able to focus on family and not politics.
On Jan. 18, Rodriguez filed papers to
block Marquez from dropping the most recent divorce case, saying, he and Marquez "are not in the process of reconciliation."
Elected mayor in 2010 after four years as a commissioner, Rodriguez promised "to bring a new level of transparency to government."
Once viewed as a rising star in the rough-and-tumble world of Palm Beach County politics, his time in office has been marked by conflict, and bitter fights with his many enemies often played out publicly.
One filed an ethics complaint accusing the mayor of cheating on property taxes. Another found a police report detailing Marquez's August complaint and read it aloud during a city commission meeting.
And in March, former Community Redevelopment Agency chief Lisa Bright sued the CRA and the city, claiming Rodriguez pushed her out for "rejecting his sexual advances" and because she told police he grabbed her shoulders and screamed in her face during a disagreement at a 2008 workshop.
Staff writers Adam Playford, Alexandra Seltzer and Julius Whigham II and staff photographer Brandon Kruse contributed to this story.