By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony’s campaign received a big boost as it enters the final weeks before the Aug. 18 Democratic primary, yet it also gave back $10,000 it got from an employee of a South Carolina firm that last year won a $750,000 BSO contract for bleeding-control kits.
The boost came from billionaire hedge fund owner S. Donald Sussman, a Fort Lauderdale resident who on July 13 coughed up another $200,000 for Broward First, Tony’s political action committee. That brings Sussman’s total contribution to Tony’s PAC to a whopping $800,000 – or nearly two-thirds of the $1.285 million it has raised to date, according to elections office records.
In contrast, the Committee for a Stronger Broward, the so-called 527 political committee that supports former Sheriff Scott Israel, Tony’s leading opponent, has raised $404,000.
Broward First PAC reported that it refunded $10,000 to Noreen Ling, an employee of North American Rescue LLC, on June 28. That was one day after Florida Bulldog asked Ling about her contribution and why she was listed as unemployed. Ling acknowledged making the contribution on June 10, confirmed she worked for North American Rescue and said she knew Tony from when he worked for North American several years ago. She declined further comment.
Joshua Karp, a spokesman for Tony’s campaign, did not respond to requests for comment.
Ling’s contribution wasn’t the first to Tony’s PAC that’s been tied to North American Rescue (NAR). In July 2019, two weeks after BSO issued a purchase order for its bleeding-control kits, NAR founder and CEO Robert Castelliani gave $5,000 to Broward First.
Like Ling’s contribution, the source of Castelliani’s contribution appears to have been disguised. His name was initially misspelled in Broward First’s filings with the elections office. Then, Tony’s campaign deleted his name and the $5,000 contribution was attributed to a company at the same South Carolina address. South Carolina corporate records show that company’s owner was North American Rescue’s chief financial officer and its registered agent was North American’s general counsel.
The pro-Tony PAC’s acceptance of two large contributions connected to North American Rescue, both containing misinformation obscuring the origin of the money, raised pay-to-play questions.
Tony has several connections to North American Rescue, some acknowledged and some not. Since become sheriff in January 2019, Tony has concealed his former job as director of Community Development for North American in 2016-2017. He didn’t mention it when his job history was discussed and he deleted mention of it from his LinkedIn profile. He also declined to respond to a previous written request about it.
Tony has acknowledged working with North American Rescue before becoming sheriff. In 2015, when Tony was a police sergeant in Coral Springs, he started up his own side business, Blue Spear Solutions, which marketed a number of North American’s products – including bleeding- control kits and stations. That relationship continues today. Blue Spear is ostensibly run by Tony’s wife, Holly, yet the sheriff’s name and photograph continue to be listed on the firm’s website as the leading member of “Our Team.” The website also says it is a “proud partner” of North American Rescue.
Financial disclosure forms filed by Tony show that Blue Spear paid him little or no money when he ran the company in 2018. He reported a negative net worth of minus $73,194 as of June 12, 2019.
Tony’s had greater success raising cash to fuel his campaign, thanks in large part to Sussman, owner of Fort Lauderdale’s most expensive home on gated, guarded Harborage Island on the Intracoastal Waterway. “This is Fort Lauderdale’s secret waterfront neighborhood,” gushes one local real estate office.
Sussman, 74, is the founder and chief investment officer of Paloma Partners, a Greenwich, CT-based hedge fund manager with 95 employees and more than $12.2 billion assets under management, according to HedgeLists.com.
Sussman, a liberal Democrat, is a Miami native who moved to Fort Lauderdale from the Northeast in 2014. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics, lists Sussman as a “megadonor,” who as of April 22 of this year was listed as the nation’s top individual donor – Republicans or Democrats – giving $865,300 entirely to Democrats.
“Sussman’s name consistently shows up among the top individual donors – he was fifth in 2018, giving $27 million to Democrats and liberal groups,” says a story on the group’s website, OpenSecrets.org.
He was also the top donor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, giving $21.6 million.
In May 2019, the Tampa Bay Times reported it had obtained a copy of a federal subpoena issued by federal grand jury in Tallahassee demanding records dating to January 2015 about former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, his 2018 campaign and his political committee Forward Florida. As part of that demand, information was also sought on several individuals including Sussman, who donated $1.5 million to Gillum’s bid for governor, and Harris Parnell, identified as a donor advisor who has worked for Sussman.
The Times story said Sussman donated $1 million to Forward Florida two days after Gillum became the party’s nominee, and followed it up with another $500,000 check in October 2018.