Tuesday, November 21, 2017
News Roundup

Critic says Hernando officials took blueberry festival bribes

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BROOKSVILLE — One of Hernando County government's frequent critics has filed criminal complaints against county commissioners, alleging they took bribes from the organizer of the Florida Blueberry Festival.

In return for their vote to sponsor the Brooksville festival, commissioners get free tickets to the festival and concert, parking passes and a mention in festival advertising.

"These are all inducements that are illegal to offer government,'' said Dennis Purdy, who recently warned commissioners that their vote to give $14,000 and other help to the festival would have repercussions.

While festival organizer Michael Heard was free to make those offers to private sponsors, Purdy said, the offers to commissioners amounted to a bribe.

Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben met with James Fisher, an attorney for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, on Wednesday and provided material that included copies of the letter Heard wrote to commissioners seeking their sponsorship and help.

The commission initially refused to sponsor the event but later reversed itself.

"I demonstrated to Mr. Fisher that the (commission) could not have voted to sponsor the Blueberry Festival in exchange for the sponsorship's perquisites,'' Jouben wrote in an email to commissioners.

"The (commission) already knew about the perquisites before the first vote. Also, the county, as opposed to the individual commissioners, received the same perquisites as every other sponsor.''

Commissioner Diane Rowden said the complaint was a waste of county time and money.

Said commission Chairman Dave Russell, "Obviously, it goes without saying that the charges are without merit, and, frankly, I resent personally the implication."

Chief Deputy Michael Mauer said the Sheriff's Office will review the materials Jouben provided to see whether Purdy's concerns "rise to the legitimacy of a complaint."

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