Gunter denies trying to hide past drug use in application for chaplain at Pasco Sheriff's Office
House candidate Bill Gunter says he’s never hidden from his past, but four years ago he failed to disclose past drug use when he sought a chaplain’s position at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
The Presbyterian minister and Republican candidate for House District 36 in Pasco County has talked openly about using marijuana, cocaine and other controlled substances in statements to reporters and others, chalking it up to youthful mistakes.
But he was less than candid in March 2009 when filling out a volunteer application for the chaplain’s corps to counsel deputies.
Asked whether he had used or tried any narcotic or controlled substance, Gunter wrote he had smoked marijuana. Asked to describe the circumstance, he wrote “high school party.”
On a question about his criminal background, on whether he had ever been “detained by any law enforcement officer for any investigative purposes,” he checked the “no” box.
Gunter, 43, has made no secret that he used drugs in high school and as a student at the University of Florida, including cocaine.
“You name it, I did it,” he once told a Times reporter.
And according to court records, Gunter has been arrested at least twice – on charges of battery in 1988 and driving with a suspended license in 1989. Charges were dismissed in the battery case. He pleaded no contest in the 1989 traffic case.
Gunter, the pastor of Redeemer Community Church in New Port Richey, credits his Christian conversion while at the University of Florida for helping to overcome his drug and alcohol problems.
He blamed “liberal special interests and career politicians” for bringing up his past now.
He wouldn’t comment directly on whether he wasn’t truthful on the application to serve as a chaplain, a volunteer position, and referenced a statement from two weeks ago when asked to comment further.
That statement came in response to questions about whether he lied on an application to work as an assistant football coach at River Ridge High School in 2007. The Pasco school district concluded that he hadn’t lied.
In his statement, Gunter said: “Nothing I answered on the job application (for the coaching position) and nothing I have publicly stated has ever been an attempt to hide the list of bad choices from my youth.
“In the decades since those events, faith and maturity gave me the strength and wisdom to leave foolish things behind and devote my life to helping others,” he said.
“Nevertheless, for the second time in 24 hours, liberal special interests and career politicians are trying to use my childish mistakes to cloud the important issues of this campaign. I remain focused on real issues: how do we get Pasco County families back on the road to economic recovery and how do we protect consumers from those who would take advantage of them."
Gunter is no longer part of the chaplain corps, which is comprised of 12 volunteer chaplains. He held the position until a month ago when placed on “inactive leave” to allow him to focus on his campaign, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Sheriff Chris Nocco, who officially endorsed Gunter last month, denied that Gunter tried to hide his past or that he had lost faith in him.
“Bill has been extremely open either verbally or in documentation about his past, which the media has written about over the past 15 years,” the sheriff said.
“His positive transformation is no surprise to those who know Bill and we should hold it as an example for others who suffer in finding a positive path in life,” he said.