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Report shows illegal contributions to Buddy Johnson's campaign

TAMPA — Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson, whose duties include overseeing campaign finance reports, submitted a campaign filing of his own Thursday that included two illegal $500 contributions.

Johnson's report reflected $500 contributions each from two Tampa companies, Battleview Investments Inc. and Battleview Properties LLC. Johnson previously reported that both firms had already contributed $500 apiece to his campaign on Dec. 30.

Florida law limits contributions to a single $500 check per election cycle.

"I'll have to research that," Johnson said initially when informed Thursday by the St. Petersburg Times of the improper contributions.

In a later call, Johnson said, "You are correct. Checks are being written and are being mailed back. It was just an oversight."

With the return of those two $500 checks, Johnson, the Republican incumbent, has raised $30,150 since October, while Democratic challenger Phyllis Busansky, who began collecting contributions last month, has raised $34,178.

Busansky, a Hillsborough county commissioner from 1988 to 1996 who waged an unsuccessful bid for the 9th Congressional District seat two years ago, reported no expenditures in her campaign so far.

Johnson — founder of BuddyFreddy's restaurants, a three-term legislator and elections chief in Hillsborough since 2003 — reported expenditures through March of $3,028.94: $894.29 to Capital Consulting for printing and $2,134.65 to Platinum LLC for a Jan. 10 fundraiser.

In his call to the Times, Johnson also reacted for the first time to the newspaper's story published on TBT.com Wednesday about his failure to pay more than $11,000 in delinquent taxes on two properties he owns and two he sold last year.

"The title company that handled the closing for the Cherry Tree Lane property is researching that tax matter," said Johnson. "We'll have to sort that out."

Records show Johnson did not pay the property tax bills in 2005 and 2006 for the home he built at 2815 Cherry Tree Lane in Plant City or for the adjoining lot.

Taxes were collected by Platinum Title Services when Johnson sold both properties last year.

But Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden then discovered an error in the amount collected and notified Johnson in a Sept. 10, 2007, letter that he owed more than $2,052 in "unpaid delinquent taxes."

Johnson never responded to that letter or to a followup letter mailed April 4, Belden's records show.

Asked Thursday if he received the letters, Johnson replied, "I have not personally received those letters in my hand, but that is not the issue."

Johnson did not say when he might pay two other tax bills totaling more than $9,000 that became delinquent on April 1.

Johnson, who was paid $132,128 as elections chief last year, has not yet paid a $1,682 tax bill on 19.98 acres and a small home off Thonotosassa Road in Plant City he purchased for $800,000 last year.

He has applied for agricultural exemptions on the six lots on that acreage, leasing the land for $20 a year to a Future Farmers of America cow exhibitor.

Johnson says the 12 cows now grazing on his property constitute a bona fide agricultural use, but Property Appraiser Rob Turner still has until July 1 to rule on the "greenbelt" exemptions, which would reduce Johnson's 2008 tax bill from $12,626 to $120.

Johnson is also delinquent paying a $7,338 tax bill on a 13th-floor luxury penthouse at the Rivo at Ringling condos in downtown Sarasota.

After paying 5 percent down and buying the unit for $476,800 in December 2006, Johnson decided to put the unit up for sale a year later.

He has now reduced the condo's price to $440,000, almost $13,000 less than the loans he signed to purchase the unit.

Jeff Testerman can be reached at (813) 226-3422 or testerman@sptimes.com.

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Campaign contributions

Report shows illegal contributions to Buddy Johnson's campaign 04/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 10:50am]

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