1. Florida Politics

Tampa attack ad targets business owned by candidate's grandmother

TAMPA — The latest mailer from the mysterious political committee Moving Tampa Forward claims that a business run by City Council candidate Guido Maniscalco has been a delinquent taxpayer — though Maniscalco said it's really an attack on his grandmother.

"Basically, they're attacking an elderly woman," said Maniscalco, who on Friday asked his opponent Jackie Toledo to apologize. "I'm the one who's running. I'm the candidate, not my grandmother, who's 87 years old."

Maniscalco, 30, said he is self-employed and sells vintage watches and other jewelry, mostly online. He said he also works in his family's jewelry store, Guido Morana Jewelers, started by his grandfather on N Armenia Avenue in 1974.

"I do it to help my family out, but my income comes strictly from the watches and online sales," he said. In a financial disclosure statement, Maniscalco said he was self-employed at the address of the store and that his 2014 income from his business totaled $29,100.

Maniscalco said he has never owned the store, and his name does not appear in corporate or official records related to the business. After his grandfather died in 1984, his grandmother, Maria Morana, ran it until 2010, he said. Since then, his mother, Marietta Maniscalco, has owned the store, he said.

From 2006 to 2010, the Florida Department of Revenue filed liens against the store seeking a total of $37,250 in delinquent taxes, interest, penalties and fees. The largest single lien was for $14,253 in 2006. Court records show that the state released that lien after payment in 2010.

Moving Tampa Forward's mailer said, "The business Maniscalco claims to run was cited with multiple state tax liens totalling nearly $40,000."

"I owe nothing; I pay my taxes," Maniscalco said. "I file on time. I pay on time. I have no issues whatsoever."

Maniscalco said the mailer "has nothing to do with me." From 2007 to 2009, he said, he worked at the Montblanc pen store at International Plaza.

"It's disgusting the point they've gotten to," he said. "I see it as a sign of major desperation."

Late Friday, Tampa City Council members Yvonne Yolie Capin, Harry Cohen, Frank Reddick and Mike Suarez said in a letter to local newspapers that they were "disturbed by shadowy, unknown entities becoming a factor in the race" and urged voters to "send a clear message rejecting this type of anonymous negative campaigning and be leery of unsourced, unverified attacks."

"We find the introduction of third-party attacks that cannot be traced to be a very alarming and destructive development."

The four said "candidates have an affirmative responsibility to stand behind attacks that are made on their opponents or to unambiguously denounce them."

Toledo said she reviewed Moving Tampa Forward's ad and said, "It's unfortunate that this type of campaigning done by outside groups exists, but that if the contents of this flier are true, Mr. Maniscalco's honesty and record are in question."

Toledo has said her campaign has nothing to do with Moving Tampa Forward, which was registered with the state on Feb. 17.

Registration papers list the committee's chairman as Auston Cianflone, with a mailing address of a student apartment at Hillsborough Community College. HCC does not have a student named Auston Cianflone, but it does have a student named Auston Molina.

Asked before the March 3 primary whether he knew Auston Molina, Toledo's campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, said, "No, I don't think I do."

But on Facebook, an Auston Molina who has connections named Cianflone linked to a photo gallery from Pedicini's 35th birthday party last year, and the gallery includes tagged photos of both men. Florida voter registration records also show an Auston Molina, 19, and a Deborah Cianflone, 45, at the same unit at the SkyPoint condominium tower.

Other public records also point to a connection between Moving Tampa Forward and a political professional who has worked with Pedicini on similar political committees.

This week, a fax to the Florida Division of Elections from Moving Tampa Forward carried the time-stamp from a fax machine at "PAG."

It is not the only such fax that state elections officials have received from a political committee with a PAG fax time-stamp. In 2014, the Committee for Progressive Values sent a similar fax with a similar time-stamp. That committee's registered agent was Michael Millner, who owns a Jensen Beach firm called Political Accounting Group. The committee's registered agent was Pedicini, whose business partner is David Millner.

Pedicini and Michael Millner have worked on four such committees together, according to elections records. Neither returned calls for comment.

Toledo said she has "absolutely no idea" who is behind Moving Tampa Forward, funded by $7,000 from the Wilbur Smith Law Firm in Fort Myers.

Still, both the committee and her campaign like the phrase, "Moving Tampa Forward." A mailer that Toledo's campaign sent before the March 3 primary featured the headline, "Let's Keep Moving Tampa Forward!"

Toledo said her campaign sent out that mailer at the beginning of February "and has nothing to do with this committee."

"Everything we've done," she said, "has been positive and issues-oriented."