TAMPA — Hillsborough state attorney candidate Andrew Warren is calling out his opponent, incumbent Mark Ober, for his work ethic. Or, as Warren suggests, the lack thereof.
A former federal fraud prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice and the first Democrat to challenge the Republican Ober in years, Warren said he made a public records request to find out more about the state attorney's comings and goings. What he got back is roughly a month's worth of Ober's key card data — the log created when Ober uses his security badge inside the state attorney's building.
The records show that between Feb. 29 and April 2 of this year, Ober used his key card on only five days.
"Most of us can't show up for work 5 days of the month and keep our job," Warren, 39, said in an emailed statement.
"Cases are falling through the cracks at the expense of victims and families, and now we know why," he said. "This raises a number of very serious questions that I would hope Mr. Ober will answer sooner than later."
Ober responded that Warren "hasn't done his homework," and that the key card records prove nothing — he can get into and out of his office during business hours without using it.
"The citizens elected me to serve 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Hillsborough County is safer because of my work," he said.
Ober also fired back at Warren, questioning Warren's experience and the collapse of the last case Warren handled as a federal prosecutor, a $32 million fraud case. It resulted in acquittals of all but one defendant after Warren left the U.S. Attorney's Office to run for state attorney.
"The real issue's experience — he can't do it," Ober said. "To my knowledge, he's never set foot inside a state courtroom."
Warren responded, "Answering questions about whether he's showing up to work by criticizing me doesn't really answer the question."
He said his federal experience has taught him how to be a prosecutor and manage prosecutors.
"It's like saying Derek Jeter can't play for the Rays because his experience is with the Yankees."
Warren said his last case collapsed because the judge wouldn't allow time for the prosecutors who took it over to investigate new evidence and testimony that came to light after he left the office.
In a memo accompanying a copy of the records, Warren's campaign manager, Tom Alte, said the campaign made the public records request in response to what he called "rumors from within the legal community" that Ober has been absent from his office frequently.
Ober denied knowing of any such rumors.
"My job is not 9 to 5," he said. "I get called by law enforcement in the middle of the night. I've been to more crime scenes than I care to talk about."
Asked for the most recent, he mentioned the police shooting of a robber at a South Tampa drugstore in March 2015.
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Ober said that he occasionally works from the Plant City State Attorney's Office when he needs quiet and solitude, and that his calendar is regularly filled with community events. He said he often comes to work and leaves without using his key card.
He said that one building entrance isn't secured during business hours, and that there are receptionists at the entrances to his suite of offices who buzz in people they recognize as employees.
Ober, 64, a Republican, has been Hillsborough state attorney since winning election in 2000 and has not faced a challenger since 2008. He has said that if he is re-elected in 2016, it will be his last term in office.
Originally from Gainesville, Warren worked for the Justice Department for eight years specializing in fraud and white-collar crime cases. He has lived in Tampa since 2013.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.