Anna Paulina Luna’s first congressional challenger has checkered past

Democrat John Liccione, who filed to run for the Pinellas seat in June, has faced trespassing and assault charges.
John Liccione, 62, of Gulfport has filed paperwork to run as a Democrat for the Pinellas congressional seat held by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna in 2024.
John Liccione, 62, of Gulfport has filed paperwork to run as a Democrat for the Pinellas congressional seat held by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna in 2024. [ Courtesy of John Liccione ]
Published Sept. 18|Updated Sept. 19

A Gulfport Democrat running for the congressional seat held by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-St. Petersburg, was once jailed and involuntarily committed to a medical facility following an arrest on domestic assault charges.

John Liccione, 62, saw the charges dismissed and later expunged from his record when his now ex-wife declined to testify against him, according to filings in the U.S. District Court of Maryland.

Liccione filed in June to be the first official challenger against Luna for the District 13 seat, listing an office in South Pasadena as his campaign’s primary address. County records indicate he registered to vote in Pinellas County in February. He previously lived mostly in and around the Washington, D.C., area, though he did briefly reside in Redington Shores a few years ago.

Democrats locally and statewide have targeted Luna’s seat, which encompasses most of Pinellas County, including portions of St. Petersburg, as a potential blue pickup in 2024. Before redistricting in 2020, the seat had been held by Democrat Charlie Crist.

Liccione’s campaign website describes him as an Air Force veteran, electrical engineer and technology executive. The centerpiece of his campaign platform is a call for a $25 billion investment in child safety and education, including measures to curb school shootings and sex trafficking.

But he primarily calls himself a “national security hawk” whose “passion” is combatting Vladimir Putin’s Russia. He is the founder of RussiLeaks, “a news media company whose sole focus is exposing Putin’s secrets and those of his American operatives.” Among them, he says, is Luna, whom he sees as “corrupted by Putin.”

“I think I’m more equipped than almost anyone to take her on, just on the Russia issue alone, which I think is her biggest vulnerability, and it’s my biggest strength,” he said.

In 2013, Liccione was an executive with a Maryland cybersecurity firm that had contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense. At that time, his relationship with his then-wife was deteriorating, leading to a protracted legal battle.

In court filings, he alleged that she poisoned him over the course of several months with the toxic metal thallium, leading to his hospitalization. He made a similar claim in a recent questionnaire with the election tracking website Ballotpedia, saying he was poisoned “by Russia” multiple times between 2013 and 2021.

In 2017, he was charged with trespassing during a confrontation with Maryland authorities at the Howard County State Attorney’s Office while seeking to have charges filed against his wife. Ten days later, he was arrested and charged with assault and false imprisonment following another confrontation with his wife. He was initially deemed incompetent to stand trial and involuntarily hospitalized. When he later was deemed competent, his wife declined to testify against him in exchange for compensation specified by their divorce agreement.

Liccione denied and contested the assault claims, and later had them expunged from his record; a county document noting the dropped charges listed him as not guilty. He was later charged with stalking after hiring a private investigator during and after his divorce, and he also faced a defamation lawsuit from his ex-wife. Those cases were also later dismissed — part of a pattern, he said, of being falsely accused and eventually exonerated. But in 2018, he did plead guilty to the trespass charge, receiving a year of probation.

Get insights into Florida politics

Get insights into Florida politics

Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter

We’ll send you a rundown on local, state and national politics coverage every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“It’s a long, tortured story, and it is not something that is pleasant to talk about, but it’s part of the backstory, and the voters are going to want to hear it eventually at some point,” Liccione said. “But I’ve got nothing to hide about it. The fact that I survived all of that, I wear it as a badge of honor, and came out even stronger, and it gives me the strength to do what I’m doing now.”

A more recent brush with the law occurred this summer in Dunedin. Liccione said he was at Woodwright Brewing’s regular bluegrass jam night when he attempted to perform an overtly political song, drawing complaints from some customers. After he was asked to stop or leave, management called the police. No charges were filed.

It’s up to the voters, Liccione said, to weigh his legal past as a part of his candidacy.

“I wouldn’t have run if I thought I was guilty and had broke the law,” he said. “I’m not afraid to go up against fascism.”