Prosecutors drop charges against DeSantis’ voter fraud suspect

Prosecutors cited Tampa resident Tony Patterson’s sentence in a separate criminal case for the dismissal.
Tony Patterson, a registered sex offender, when told by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent that he was being arrested for voting illegally in 2020.
Tony Patterson, a registered sex offender, when told by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent that he was being arrested for voting illegally in 2020. [ Tampa Police Department body-worn camera footage ]
Published Nov. 22, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Statewide prosecutors have dropped charges against one of the 20 people accused by Gov. Ron DeSantis of voting illegally in 2020.

In a court filing Monday, prosecutors wrote that they were dropping charges against Tampa resident Tony Patterson, 44, because of “information received” from the Hillsborough County elections supervisor and because he was already being sentenced to prison in a separate case.

The decision means state officials avoid potentially having a second voter fraud case thrown out by a judge in as many months.

Related: Police cameras show confusion, anger over DeSantis’ voter fraud arrests

Patterson was one of 20 people accused by DeSantis in a high-profile news conference in August of voting illegally. As someone convicted of a felony sexual offense, Patterson was not allowed to vote under state law, but state elections officials — who report to DeSantis — cleared him to receive a voter ID card and didn’t stop him from voting in the 2020 election.

Monday’s court filing did not say what information prosecutors received from local elections supervisors.

In a separate criminal case in September, Patterson was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after pleading no contest to a charge of failing to notify the local sheriff in March that he was driving a new vehicle. Under state law, registered sex offenders must report any changes in vehicle ownership within 48 hours.

Patterson was facing a much stiffer sentence if convicted of both registering and voting illegally: up to five years in prison on each charge.

But his public defender challenged the ability of statewide prosecutors to charge Patterson at all after a Miami judge dismissed a case against one of the other 20 people accused by DeSantis of voting illegally.

Under state law, statewide prosecutors are restricted to charging crimes, including voting, that cross multiple judicial circuits. Those crimes are usually “complex, often large scale, organized criminal activity,” according to its website.

Since people vote in their home county and their votes are certified in Tallahassee, every voting-related case can be handled by statewide prosecutors, they have argued.

Earlier this month, that argument was rejected by a Miami judge, who wrote that the defendant, if he committed a crime at all, only did it in Miami-Dade County and had no say over where his vote was certified. Prosecutors have appealed that judge’s decision.

Related: DeSantis’ voter fraud suspect was issued new voter ID

Patterson’s attorney quickly seized on that argument and moved to dismiss his case, prompting statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox to personally argue against it in Hillsborough County court earlier this month.

The judge was awaiting statewide prosecutors’ response when they dropped the charges on Monday.

Patterson, like many of the other people charged with registering and voting illegally, had said he didn’t know he had done anything wrong.

Police body camera footage obtained by the Times/Herald in October captured his confusion and outrage in the hours before DeSantis’ news conference. He said his brother encouraged him to register to vote.

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“Why would you let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?” He asked the Tampa police officer who arrested him.

“I’m not sure, buddy,” the officer replied. “I don’t know.”

Times staff writer Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report.