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Candidate defends finances

Hernando County Commission candidate Tony Mosca Jr. says his filing for bankruptcy eight years ago should not keep people from voting for him in November. Mosca said that his business success and his community service since then have shown that he can overcome adversity. "If I had the financial troubles today that I had eight years ago, I wouldn't be running for county commissioner," the 43-year-old Republican said. "If I couldn't show myself I could handle it, I certainly wouldn't ask people to trust me."

Mosca blamed his financial difficulties on injuries he suffered in a 1980 auto accident and his ill-fated attempt to publish a twice-monthly newspaper, the Spring Hill Guardian.

Democrat Verne Smith, Mosca's opponent in the District 4 race, has a mottled financial history of his own. In the past year, Smith has seen his lawn-care business go under and judges levy claims totaling $11,376.26 against him for a Cadillac and a pickup truck that were repossessed.

Smith, 51, has said that his personal finances have nothing to do with how he would run county government.

Mosca said that he has shown he can overcome his problems, while Smith has not.

"I can understand people going through financial problems, but at least I've had eight years to straighten my act and show that I'm an honorable individual," Mosca said.

He said he would not be running for office today if he were facing the problems Smith is. "How can you take care of others if you can't take care of your own?" Mosca asked.

Smith was called away to Pensacola on a family emergency Friday and could not be reached to respond to Mosca's comments.

Mosca is the owner of U-Stor-It Mini Warehouse and a U-Haul dealership in Spring Hill. He said he was working to establish his warehouse business when he was rear-ended by a garbage truck on Spring Hill Drive on May 25, 1980.

He said the neck and back injuries he suffered in the accident forced him to give up his part-time job as a respiratory therapist at Leesburg Community Hospital.

Mosca said he struggled for nearly two years to make ends meet. Then in February 1982 he started the Spring Hill Guardian. "When I first got involved in it, I had the wrong advice, and I went with it, and that got me into the hole," Mosca said.

The advice came from an Ocala printer who was printing and mailing Mosca's newspaper. Mosca said he later found a printer who charged less, as well as a less expensive way to mail the newspaper.

But by that time, he was $15,000 in debt to the Ocala printer, whom he would not identify. Mosca said he started paying off that debt in installments,

but the printer, upset that he no longer had Mosca's business, sued him and won a $15,000 judgment. Mosca says the debt at the time had been whittled to no more than $8,000.

The newspaper ceased publication in September 1982. All this was happening while Mosca was facing intense criticism as president of the Spring Hill Civic Club, which later became the Civic Association.

He was accused of selling advertising in his newspaper by saying it was sponsored by the civic club, of selling a lawn sprinkler that was donated to the club and belatedly turning the money over to the club, and of mishandling tickets for a club raffle.

Mosca denied any wrongdoing. The club's board of directors placed him on a 14-month leave of absence when he refused to resign. Mosca says today he took the leave because of health problems from his auto accident.

Mosca said the judge in the printer's lawsuit advised him to file for personal bankruptcy. Mosca said his debts were between $20,000 and $35,000, not counting his home mortgage.

He said he eventually paid off his local debts, except for the money owed the Ocala printer.

Mosca said the bankruptcy has had little effect on his finances. He said he could not have built a successful enterprise if local business people did not feel he was competent.

And he said he didn't believe the bankruptcy should have any effect on his political future because he has faced up to the problem and dealt with it.

"I have dirty laundry in my closet," Mosca said. "Not only have I taken my dirty laundry out, I've washed it and hung it out to dry."