Saturday, March 24, 2018

Ousted FDLE chief raises new allegations about meddling by Gov. Rick Scott, aides

TALLAHASSEE — Ousted Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Gerald Bailey claims he resisted repeated efforts by Gov. Rick Scott and his top advisers to falsely name someone a target in a criminal case, hire political allies for state jobs and intercede in an outside investigation of a prospective Scott appointee.

In a new series of allegations, Bailey says former Scott chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth pressured him to claim that the acting clerk of court in Orange County, Colleen Reilly, was the target of an FDLE criminal inquiry after two prison inmates used forged papers from the clerk's office to plot an escape from the Franklin Correctional Institution. The 2013 case embarrassed the prison system under Scott's control.

But there was one problem, Bailey said. It wasn't true, and he told Hollingsworth that.

"The most shocking thing was being ordered to target another individual without any justification," Bailey said. "I don't know why this woman was in the cross hairs."

After a tense meeting in Hollingsworth's office, Bailey said, Scott press aide Frank Collins drove to Bailey's office at FDLE headquarters and asked Bailey if he was defying a direct order from the governor's office. When Bailey again refused, Collins "turned on his heel and left," Bailey said.

In an FDLE news release and news conference the next day, the clerk of court was not identified as a target.

Scott's office says Bailey's accusations are untrue and the governor's office worked with the FDLE on statements about the escaped inmates because it involved the Department of Corrections, an agency under Scott's control.

"No agency would be told to fabricate information," said Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz. "It's just not true."

Hollingsworth, who left the governor's office last month, did not respond to phone and email requests for comment. Collins did not respond to requests for comment. He has been promoted to a deputy chief of staff position in Scott's office.

It would be one of a series of incidents in which Bailey felt he was losing his grip on his job by refusing to bow to the demands of Scott's aides. Last week, the Times/Herald reported on Bailey complaints including requests that the FDLE transport campaign workers in state vehicles even though the FDLE said its legal duty is to transport only Scott and his family. Also, Bailey said Scott's campaign asked him to help write its law enforcement platform, which the governor's office now admits was a mistake because Bailey led an independent state agency.

The start of Scott's second term has been thrown into disarray by the Bailey fiasco, as the former FDLE chief publicly called Scott a liar last week for claiming he resigned.

According to Bailey, Scott personally asked him if he could "bring in for a landing" an out-of-state investigation of a Miami businessman Scott wanted to appoint to a powerful state board. Bailey declined to identify the businessman.

The Times/Herald has confirmed that the FDLE conducted two criminal background checks in 2012 and 2013 on Bernard Klepach, 53, the owner of duty-free shops and the mayor of Indian Creek Village, an affluent enclave in Miami-Dade County. He was under consideration for a vacancy on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Klepach donated the maximum $25,000 to Scott's first inauguration celebration in 2011.

After Scott's appointments office requested the background checks on Klepach, the FDLE discovered he was under investigation in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles district attorney was investigating whether Klepach's employees and business associates and employees of those associates had been reimbursed for making $12,000 in contributions to the 2005 campaign of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, which could be money laundering. Klepach has not been charged with a crime.

"Scott wanted the case to go away," Bailey said. "He just wanted it brought in for a landing. He asked, 'Couldn't we do more?' "

Bailey emphasized that Scott did not ask him to try to impede or halt the investigation. He said Scott was frustrated that the case had dragged on for years.

Scott spokeswoman Schutz said: "That seems like a petty attack."

Scott's office did not provide the Times/Herald with a copy of Klepach's application. He was never appointed. Klepach could not be reached for comment.

Bailey also says Scott's office tried to place unqualified people in FDLE jobs. He cited David Folsom, who resigned as a deputy inspector general at the Department of Corrections and later sought an unspecified $70,000 job at FDLE, with the support of Scott's office.

"It was just ludicrous," Bailey said. "It was crazy."

Schutz said: "Our office works with agencies all the time to get positions filled."

When the so-called Dream Defenders staged a weekslong Capitol sit-in in the summer of 2013 to protest the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, the FDLE issued daily incident reports.

Bailey says Scott's office wanted those reports to include specific references to state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, who was assisting the protesters. On July 19, the FDLE reported that "Representative Williams' aide brought several protesters in through the north lobby before 5 p.m." A day later, it said that "Williams is providing food to the group on the plaza level through Sunday."

Williams said the report is wrong. He said the people his aide brought into the Capitol building were not protesters. He said he helped coordinate the delivery of food, but only after reaching an agreement with the FDLE agent in charge of the Capitol police.

"This was a conscious effort by the governor's office," Williams said. "Adam (Hollingsworth) was trying to show this wasn't a movement of students, but that it was orchestrated by Democrats."

In response, Schutz said: "We wanted the reports to reflect what was going on in the Capitol. We work with agencies all the time on issues."

Bailey's buttoned-down, by-the-book style served him well for three decades, and law enforcement officials across the state compliment him on his professionalism.

As the controversy over Bailey's ouster has intensified in recent days, Scott has made conflicting statements, at first saying Bailey did "a great job." Later he said Bailey resigned, then said he wanted a change at the helm of the agency and accused Bailey of making "petty attacks."

Last week, Scott and the Cabinet appointed as Bailey's replacement Rick Swearingen, 55, a three-decade veteran of the FDLE who most recently headed the unit that provides security to the state Capitol complex.

The manner in which Bailey's ouster was orchestrated has exposed the lack of experience by Scott's cadre of young aides, led by 32-year-old chief of staff Melissa Sellers, who was Scott's campaign manager and has been in her first state policy post for five weeks.

"My feeling is that it (the ouster) had Gov. Scott's concurrence," Bailey said of his forced resignation. "But I'm almost sure it was engineered by Melissa Sellers."

Sellers declined to comment.

Bailey was most disappointed that Scott never told him to his face that he wanted his own man at the helm of the FDLE. The two men crossed paths a few weeks ago at the funeral for former Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell, where Bailey was a pallbearer.

Bailey's abrupt departure on Dec. 16 blindsided law enforcement officials across the state.

"I was very surprised," said Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger. "I was under the impression that he was going to retire in a year or so. He was a consummate professional who was wonderful to work with."

"I had very good relations with him and with the agency under his leadership," Gainesville-area State Attorney Bill Cervone said. "It caught me by surprise, and I simply am not privy to any of the details."

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesman Larry McKinnon said it doesn't matter that Bailey was removed from office, and police agencies that work with the FDLE put politics aside.

"We've always had a great relationship with Bailey, but we can't get into the weeds of the politics," McKinnon said. "There's a reason why the governor made that decision. We will continue to work with FDLE, regardless. We'd be derelict in our duty if we didn't."

Jim York, who was FDLE commissioner from 1979 to 1982, said the aftershocks of the shakeup could create a lasting perception that politics has compromised the independence of the agency, which could raise questions about the FDLE's investigations of corruption.

"I worked for (Gov.) Bob Graham, and I can't imagine he'd ever do something like this," said York, a Democrat. "If it's perceived that the agency is under the thumb of any politician, particularly this governor, it's going to be devastating to the morale of the agents. They wouldn't be interested in doing investigations where they felt that the governor was looking over their shoulder, looking out for his donor friends. Other law enforcement agencies would be reluctant to work with FDLE if they think that's the case."

Ironically, this easily could have been avoided.

Bailey, 67, was nearing retirement. He and his wife have a beach house in the Panhandle and grandchildren in South Florida and Atlanta, and he's an avid fisherman.

He said he had planned to retire by the end of April, after the FDLE completed another accreditation review.

"I could have left happy," Bailey said.

After his forced resignation, he got a glowing letter from one of his four bosses. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam wrote: "The range and depth of your expertise will be nearly impossible to replace."

Asked if he received a similar letter from Scott, Bailey laughed and said: "No, and I don't think I will."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] Follow @stevebousquet. Contact Michael Van Sickler at [email protected] Follow @mikevansickler.

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