Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Mudslinging continues in House District 68 race

ST. PETERSBURG — The video begins with Heather Carter sitting in a chair near a window. For 11 minutes, she talks softly about her abusive relationship with her ex-husband.

She recalls the time he tried to attack her with a shovel in April 2011 at their daughter's school.

Then she blames his criminal attorney — Dwight Dudley, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 68 — for ruining her life by helping her ex-husband avoid jail time.

Dudley's opponent, Republican Frank Farkas, paid for the video and began using 30-second clips as television spots this week. The contest for the St. Petersburg-based seat continues to be one of the state's nastiest legislative races.

"Dwight Dudley is the reason he continues to terrorize me," Carter says.

Here's what she didn't say: She met Dudley in May 2011 to sign a "Request Not To Prosecute" form, court records show.

The form itself didn't matter. Days before, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office had dropped the charges for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Her ex-husband pleaded guilty to criminal mischief for smacking the shovel into a truck owned by Carter's boyfriend.

"This is completely wrong," Dudley said of the ad. "Instead of dealing with issues that are important to voters, (Farkas) continues to do character assassinations to sully my reputation. It's very scary to me."

Farkas disagreed. He said he knew that Carter signed the form not to prosecute and that prosecutors passed on felony charges against her ex-husband. Carter's tale, he said, is about continued abuse that shows cracks in Florida's criminal justice system. He said he plans to toughen domestic violence laws when elected next week to the Florida Legislature.

"The system has failed her," Farkas said. "It's a sad story."

The controversial ad and video come two weeks after Farkas sent glossy mailers showing mug shots of seven people convicted for murder, sex and drug offenses, robbery and exploiting the elderly. The mailers stressed that Dudley represented the criminals.

Carter said she injected herself into the campaign after she saw a Dudley campaign ad on television.

She said she became enraged when Dudley touted that he has helped many Floridians. She then contacted Farkas, who did not pay her, to tell her story.

Dudley, she said, intimidated and misled her into signing the no-prosecution form.

When asked why she didn't disclose the form in the video, she said: "I didn't know what I was signing."

Dudley said he didn't want to criticize Carter, but said she was "very willing and interested" in getting the felony charges dropped against her ex-husband.

When Carter's story appeared online Monday at heathersstory.com, it promoted October as domestic violence awareness month. Without the group's permission, the video also displayed the logo for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Colorado-based group ordered them to remove the logo.

Farkas removed the logo and apologized.

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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