LARGO — A candidate for the City Commission was arrested Monday on a felony charge of extortion, Largo police said.
Robert Avery, 31, is accused of writing and sending an anonymous email to opponent Aaron Darr's campaign site Aug. 29 threatening to release "negative information" about him unless he dropped out of the race. The information was "obtained digitally," it said.
Darr, 24, was awake about 2:15 a.m. when he got the email, signed "A Concerned Citizen of Largo."
Darr said it's not new to get negative feedback through the site, "but for someone to insinuate they have something like that, I took that very seriously."
He posted online that he had gotten a threatening email and that he would contact his attorney. He continued with the process of filing to run for office.
"I don't think it's appropriate to extort somebody for political gain and to scare somebody from participating in democracy," he said.
Investigators followed the IP address of the email's sender and traced it to Avery, police said. They are still investigating, and it was not clear what, if any, "information" Avery had.
When Darr heard the email had been traced to Avery, he said he was disappointed.
"It distracts from the issues at hand," he said. "I would've liked to have had a conversation about more of my ideas and policies and what I want to do to help people."
Mayor Woody Brown said he's unclear on the details but that "I'd hope that candidates wouldn't behave so poorly."
Darr, who identifies as a progressive, said he's running to make Largo the best city in Pinellas County through economic development and a focus on small business. Both he and Avery have filed to run for Seat 3 on the commission.
Avery was born and raised in Largo, according to his campaign site, and runs his own business. He hopes to make the city budget more business- and citizen-friendly and improve public safety staffing. He did not respond to a call Monday afternoon.
This isn't the first time Darr has been in a position of tracing unwanted emails. In 2014, an ex-boyfriend sent him an email with a link to personal photos of Darr.
That experience, he said, is what led him to take this threat seriously. He said he wishes it hadn't ended in Avery's arrest, as he knows the threat was empty.
"The last thing I want to see is anybody ever get arrested, especially a young person," Darr said. "But I have the belief that if you can't follow the rules, then don't run for office."
Contact Claire McNeill at firstname.lastname@example.org.