By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Two weeks after the Broward Sheriff’s Office paid South Carolina’s North American Rescue LLC as much as $750,000 last year to buy bleeding-control kits, the company’s founder and CEO contributed $5,000 to Sheriff Gregory Tony’s political action committee (PAC).
Eleven days ago, Tony’s PAC reported that it received a $10,000 contribution from a South Carolina woman – Noreen Ling – who identified herself as “unemployed.” Some checking, however, revealed that Ling is, in fact, employed by North American Rescue.
Florida Bulldog made contact with Ling, 41, via her company email and spoke with her by phone on Saturday. Ling acknowledged the contribution, confirmed she works for North American and said she knew Tony from when he worked for North American several years ago. She politely broke off the conversation before she could be asked about why she had failed to disclose the name of her employer, and did not respond to further requests for comment.
At the same time, a video from last August surfaced in which Sheriff Tony makes the bizarre claim that Gov. Ron DeSantis offered him a Cabinet post before appointing him sheriff in January 2019. That’s bizarre because the Florida Cabinet consists of three elected members – the Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture. There are no appointed Cabinet members.
“I had an option, and the option was ‘I want to make you the next sheriff of Broward County because I think you can do the right thing down there, but you’ve also impressed me. Would you take a position on my Cabinet?’ ” Tony told a small audience at the Pembroke Pines Democratic Club on Aug. 28, 2019. [Tony’s quote came after 28 minutes into the video.]
The ‘cushy’ road not taken
“Most people would have taken the easy road and sat there in a cushy position that doesn’t include all the things that I consciously knew were going to occur by taking this position I chose to come back to Broward County because it was my friends who that went into that school [Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School]. It was my friends that lost their kids,” Tony said.
Tony also offered a heroic, but less-than-candid view of his life as a teenager in Philadelphia during the 1990s.
“Grew up in a crime-saturated, drug-infested violent area, seeing my friends killed in front of me, witnessing my father shoot my mother. I had to fight my way out of that community, then decided I was gonna do more with my life,” Tony said.
What Tony omitted: At age 14 he shot dead an 18-year-old man outside his home, in an act he now publicly describes as self-defense. Tony was charged with murder in 1993 and acquitted in a juvenile court, where records are sealed. He kept the matter a secret for decades until Florida Bulldog questioned him about it in early May. He described it then as “the most difficult and painful experience of my life.”
Tony also used the Pembroke Pines gathering to push the idea of distributing bleeding-control kits in schools – the same kits he’d authorized BSO to buy from North American Rescue for $750,000 the month before.
Tony didn’t mention North American Rescue by name, nor did he provide details of his agency’s “investment” in the bleed kits. Likewise, he didn’t mention he was then concealing his former job as director of Community Development for North American Rescue in 2016-2017.
Sheriff Tony and North American Rescue
Tony’s ties with North American were more extensive. Since 2015, when he was a Coral Springs police sergeant, Tony had a side business called Blue Spear Solutions that marketed a number of North American’s products – including bleed control kits and stations. The relationship continues today with Blue Spear now run by Tony’s wife, Holly. Blue Spear’s website calls itself a “proud partner” of North American Rescue.
The pro-Tony PAC’s acceptance of a second large political contribution connected to North American Rescue, both of which appear to have been disguised, raises pay-to-play questions. In the case of Ling’s $10,000 contribution, the true source of the money is also open to question.
The first $5,000 contribution on July 29, 2019 was initially listed in Broward Supervisor of Elections records under the misspelled name of North American Rescue CEO Robert Castellani. But in what appeared to be an effort to disguise that it was coming from him, the PAC quickly deleted his name and changed its report to show that the contribution came from a company called Circle Creek Holdings at the same South Carolina address.
Election office records show the Broward First PAC refunded $5,000 to Castellani – under the name Bob Castalini. The same day, Circle Creek sent the PAC a $5,000 check.
A campaign spokeswoman said an effort to fix an internal error led to reporting changes that caused confusion. “We got the check from Circle Creek Holdings. Period.” She explained that in recording the check from Circle Creek someone included a note to “thank Mr. Castalini.” Another person then inserted the mistaken spelling as the contributor.
Either way, the source of the contribution comes back to North American CEO Castellani. Not only do Circle Creek and the CEO use the same address, but South Carolina corporate records show that Circle Creek’s owner is North American Rescue’s chief financial officer, Dean Bugner, and its registered agent is North American’s general counsel, Curtis Stodghill.
To date, Broward First has raised nearly $1 million to elect Sheriff Tony to a full four-year term in November. Most of it – $600,000 – has come from billionaire hedge fund investor S. Donald Sussman of Fort Lauderdale. Tony is one of a half-dozen Democrat sheriff contenders in an Aug. 18 primary.