TAMPA — Real estate broker James DeMio on Tuesday filed to run as a Democratic candidate for the Hillsborough County property appraiser.
DeMio, 46, is the broker/owner of Florida Property International in Tampa. He had no party affiliation until February, records show, when he became a Democrat.
He is also the nephew of former U.S. Rep. Rose Oakar of Cleveland. In 1995, DeMio pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge for his admitted role in what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to mask thousands of dollars in contributions for Oakar's 1992 campaign.
He received two years of probation and a $2,500 fine.
In court papers, DeMio said then he had worked with his aunt to create the illusion that multiple donors were backing her final campaign for the House in 1992, which she ultimately lost. He said he had borrowed $28,000 from a businessman and decided with Oakar to put some of it into her campaign account, breaking a large sum into multiple donations and telling the Federal Election Commission that the money had come from others, according to an Associated Press report.
In an interview Tuesday, DeMio said his only crime was mistakenly giving Oakar more money than federal law allowed. He said he borrowed the money to help his aunt at his mother's request.
"I think it's 20 years ago," DeMio said. "It's family money. I could've given the money directly to her. The fact that I gave it to her campaign was an issue."
According to his news release, DeMio received his bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in 1989 in business and finance. He was an administrator of the Housing Court division of the Cleveland Municipal Court.
In the statement, he said he "pledges to change the culture at the property appraiser's office to make the process more open and fairer to everyone in Hillsborough County."
Republican Rob Turner has been the county property appraiser since 1996. He has filed for re-election and raised more than $32,560 so far, records show. A no-party candidate, Rob Townsend, also has filed to run.
The news release included comments from county Democratic Party Chairman Chris Mitchell.
"The current property appraiser has been quick to raise taxes on property owners when times were booming, but slow to reduce taxes during our current economic downturn. All property owners throughout Hillsborough County need help and deserve better representation," Mitchell said in the statement. "James DeMio will bring his background, experience and qualifications to the property appraiser's office and establish a new openness and fairness to the current process."
Property appraisers do not set property tax rates; rates are voted on by other government agencies.
Asked about that, DeMio said Turner hadn't reduced property values as quickly as he raised them.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.