Democrats around the country have accused Republicans of stealing the last two presidential elections in Florida.
Now some Internet Web sites that traffic in conspiracy theories have fashioned something of a political thriller out of a series of apparently unrelated events they say prove the elections really were stolen.
The tale reaches far beyond elections to include a dead investigator for the state Department of Transportation, a $210 red Coach purse, gambling trips to Las Vegas and Biloxi, Miss., a Chinese computer expert charged with illegally shipping computer chips to Beijing and an Oviedo computer firm accused of overbilling the state.
And the villain? U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican elected to Congress in 2002 after spending two years as state House Speaker.
To the Internet blogs _ short for Web logs _ the hero of this tale is Clint Curtis, a 46-year-old computer programmer and self-styled book author, who says Feeney asked him to come up with an undetectable system to fix elections.
No one has proven anything, and no serious investigation appears to be under way, but the blogs are lighting up with the news and suggestions for proving corruption.
They have seized on an affidavit Curtis wrote Dec. 6 about his allegations of vote fraud. The affidavit was initially published the same day on bradblog.com. On March 3, Curtis passed a lie detector test given by Tim Robinson, retired chief polygraph operator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Curtis swore in the affidavit that he was at a meeting in Oviedo in September or October 2000 when Feeney asked if he could develop a program to alter vote tabulations on touch screen voting machines.
At the time, Feeney was general counsel for Curtis' employer, Yang Enterprises, an Oveido computer company. Curtis says he initially thought Feeney was concerned Democrats might try to fix elections. Later, Curtis said his boss told him Feeney wanted to fix voting machines in South Florida to help Republicans.
Curtis said he developed a program that included invisible buttons on touch screen machines that could alter vote totals, but he does not know whether it was ever used. He said he gave the program to one of his bosses, Li Yang, but did not keep a copy.
Feeney says he doesn't recall ever meeting Curtis and never had a conversation with anyone about fixing elections.
Feeney also points out that touch screen machines were not even contemplated before November 2000, when widely used punch card machines contributed to 36 days of uncertainty over the presidential election.
"All I can tell you is I didn't do any of the illegal things Curtis says I did," Feeney said, "and I didn't lead the purple Martian invasion of Earth either."
Feeney thinks some of the allegations are so hilarious he ordered copies of Curtis' book, Just a Fly on the Wall, as Christmas presents. The book was published by Lightning Source Group, a print-on-demand business that markets through Amazon.com.
Feeney also notes that Curtis never mentioned the accusations until recently.
"He accuses me of participating in or committing treason, murder, even worse _ everything you can think of in the book he publishes in the summer of 2004," Feeney complains, "but he doesn't accuse me of tampering with an election until the election controversy in Ohio arose," referring to unproven allegations of voting irregularities in 2004 that some Democrats say cost John Kerry the election.
Early editions of the book and complaints Curtis filed with state agencies zeroed in on Feeney's influence on behalf of Yang Enterprises and his ties to Republicans like Gov. Jeb Bush, who tapped Feeney as his running mate in his losing 1994 bid for governor.
Yang had a contract with the state DOT that was the subject of an internal investigation regarding overbilling.
A DOT investigator, Ray Lemme, was found with his wrist slashed in a bathtub at a Valdosta, Ga., hotel July 1, 2003. Friends say Lemme had serious health problems, and police ruled his death a suicide.
But Curtis is convinced Lemme was killed by someone who didn't like what Lemme had uncovered.
Lemme, an investigator for DOT's inspector general, said he "tracked the corruption all the way to the top," Curtis contends. Lemme's supervisors say it is unlikely the cautious Lemme would have made such disclosures to anyone.
Lemme left a note saying he loved his wife and family and apologized for his actions saying: "I am depressed and in pain."
DOT officials told police Lemme had completed his investigation of the Yang overbilling case and had no other cases concerning Yang or election scams when he died.
Curtis began complaining to authorities about Feeney and Yang on May 10, 2001, a day after attorneys for Yang questioned whether Curtis' employment by a DOT subcontractor violated a noncompete agreement he had with Yang. The lawyers also questioned whether Curtis had taken a confidential computer program when he left Yang in March 2001.
Curtis told Yang he was taking a job in Illinois but went to work in Tallahassee a few weeks later. DOT employees say they were asked to erase Curtis' name from an employee bulletin board whenever the Yangs visited.
Curtis said he would not have filed complaints about Yang if the company had not harassed him.
Curtis and Mavis Georgalis, his DOT supervisor, also told DOT investigators about other problems with Yang, including alleged overbilling on contracts. Curtis said Yang frequently billed for all of his time when he was also working for other clients. They also accused the Yangs of allowing an illegal alien to handle state contracts in violation of state law.
That's when attorneys for Yang began complaining about Curtis and Georgalis. They told investigators Curtis stole a computer program developed at Yang and distributed it to other vendors with Georgalis' help.
The lawyers also said Georgalis frequently took gifts from the Yangs, including gambling trips to Las Vegas and Biloxi, a $210 Coach purse, dinners in fancy restaurants and overnight hotel stays in violation of state law.
Georgalis insists she paid her share of expenses in cash and gave reciprocal gifts to Mrs. Yang.
Leon County Judge James O. Shelfer dismissed misdemeanor charges filed against Georgalis because a law forbidding DOT employees from accepting "funds" doesn't mention gifts or trips.
Prosecutors say the law is different from ones that apply to other agencies.
Curtis also accused the Yangs of allowing an illegal alien, Henry Nee, to work on the DOT contract in violation of state law. DOT investigators concluded Nee was legally in the country.
In 1999 U.S. Customs officers in Boston and Orlando caught Nee shipping computer chips for missiles to China without a federal permit. In November, Nee admitted making false statements to federal authorities and was fined $100 and put on unsupervised probation.
Curtis says he complained about Nee to several law enforcement agencies in 2003 and early 2004. But by then federal authorities were well on their way to arresting Nee in relation to a 1999 incident.
Curtis' complicated tale has been laid out extensively on several internet blogs, including Bradblog.com, which published his affidavit.
Curtis, who says he keeps an AK-47 near his front door and fears for his life, says he has caught trespassers near his house at Woodville, a small community south of Tallahassee.
The polygraph test Curtis passed was paid for by Kevin Walsh, a private investigator from Washington, D.C., who says he has been hired to prove election fraud. Walsh refused to identify the client.
Curtis said he wrote the affidavit after reading about a reward for anyone who could verify vote fraud. He didn't want the money, Curtis insists, but wanted to prove the elections had been stolen. He presented copies of his affidavit to several congressional staffers and testified before a Democratic committee looking at fraud allegations in Ohio.
Feeney says his friendship with the Yangs goes back about 20 years when he filed incorporation papers for Yang Enterprises Inc. Feeney also appointed Mrs. Yang, a software expert, to a state technology task force when he was speaker of the Florida House.
Yang Enterprises is the largest business in Oviedo with nearly 300 employees, Feeney says. Yang continues to get contracts from the state and NASA.
Richard Martinez, the campaign manager for Feeney's 2002 opponent, filed a formal complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission alleging that Feeney intervened with state officials for Yang. It was dismissed after investigators found no evidence Feeney attempted to influence DOT or that he violated a law prohibiting lawmakers from representing private clients before state agencies.
Litigation involving the Yangs, DOT, Curtis and Georgalis continues in Leon County.
The Yangs sued Curtis and Georgalis over the allegedly stolen software, which the company valued at $2.5-million. The DOT contends Yang overbilled the state about $97,000 om payments approved by Georgalis.
Curtis and Georgalis contend they were fired by DOT in retaliation for blowing the whistle on Yang. Georgalis has been temporarily reinstated at DOT pending the outcome of the lawsuits.