Friday, May 25, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott draws complaint over on-duty officers at Tampa campaign event

TALLAHASSEE — A police union official filed a complaint Thursday with the Florida Elections Commission, accusing Gov. Rick Scott of illegally coercing on-duty police officers to attend a campaign event in Tampa on Monday.

The complaint was filed by Jeff Marano of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a union supporting Scott's leading Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist. Marano is president of the PBA's Broward County chapter.

Under Florida law, it's a first-degree misdemeanor for a public official to "directly or indirectly coerce" any employee to engage in political activity, and employees are prohibited from doing so while working.

Scott's campaign said it made its intentions clear but a high-ranking member of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office insisted that he believed he was going to a state event to meet the governor and discuss ways to reduce crime, which is why he asked several deputies to come along.

"We obviously didn't know we were going to a campaign event," said Hillsborough Col. Jim Previtera. "Had we known it was a campaign event, we wouldn't have been there."

Previtera said he was working on Friday, the Fourth of July, when Cody Vildostegui, a Scott campaign aide, asked him to attend a press conference Monday about reducing crime. Previtera's boss, Sheriff David Gee, who supports Scott, was unable to attend.

Also in attendance was another Scott supporter, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who said the same campaign staffer made it clear to him that it was an event promoting Scott's re-election bid.

"It was unequivocally clear to me that this was purely a political event," Gualtieri said. "I knew what I was going into … Where the communication broke down, I don't know, but it didn't break down with me."

Gualtieri said Scott's campaign even asked him for his private email address to avoid using a government email account for political purposes.

As an elected official, Gualtieri is exempt from the ban on public employees attending campaign events during working hours.

The Tampa event was part of Scott's three-city "Let's Keep Florida Safe" campaign swing. Public notifications of the events were made by his campaign, not the governor's office.

Also present were Holmes Beach police Chief William Tokajer and Craig Baker, a law enforcement officer from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a state agency under Scott's control.

FWC spokeswoman Katie Purcell said she didn't know who told Baker to attend but that the request came from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which she said asks FWC to provide additional security for the governor at events.

"There was a misunderstanding as to what it was for," Purcell said. "We were under the impression that's what it was for. It turned out to be more of a political event."

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed Purcell's account, and said it was a misunderstanding. "We've taken steps to ensure similar misunderstandings will not occur in the future," Plessinger said.

To buttress his allegations, Marano cited news reports by WFLA-Ch. 8, the Tampa Tribune and WTVT-Ch. 13, which quoted Chief Tokajer as saying the campaign did not tell him that the event was political.

Tokajer did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

"Rick Scott's political campaign facilitated the violation of (law) by soliciting the assistance of on-duty law enforcement officers — under the false pretense of security — only to repeatedly feature them as props in the background of campaign events," Marano's complaint alleges.

Marano's allegation is one of a record number of elections and ethics complaints filed against Scott or Crist. Both sides are using the complaint process to attack their opponents on everything from a law firm's billboards featuring Crist's face to Scott's reporting of his use of a family-owned jet for campaign travel.

A dozen have been filed so far with more likely to come.

"If what it alleges is true, it's disgusting," Crist said of the latest complaint after a speech at a statewide news editors meeting in Coral Gables. "To lure law enforcement officers unknowingly to a political campaign event is something I didn't even think Rick Scott would do."

Scott's campaign issued a response that did not address the allegations in the complaint.

"This is just another sad distraction from Charlie Crist's numerous ethical problems, including his broken promise to be transparent by releasing tax returns for both himself and his spouse," Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair said.

Times staff writer Dan Sullivan and Miami Herald staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @SteveBousquet.

Comments
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18