By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The Republican candidate for Broward sheriff and three others filed suit Friday evening contending that incumbent Sheriff Gregory Tony, a Democrat, is apparently a convicted felon and if so is disqualified from holding office under the Florida Constitution.
With the general election upcoming Tuesday, the lawsuit threatens to throw the vote for sheriff into chaos.
The lawsuit asks a Broward judge for an immediate hearing on the matter, and to compel the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to produce “all documents in its possession relating to Tony’s criminal history and felony convictions” and also make its employees with knowledge of Tony’s criminal past available to testify. It also seeks a declaration from the court as to whether Tony’s qualification as the Democratic nominee for sheriff is proper.
FDLE has been investigating Tony since early May when Florida Bulldog reported that on Jan. 7, 2020, the sheriff signed an FDLE affidavit declaring under oath that he never had a criminal record sealed or expunged. The affidavit came to light five days after the Bulldog disclosed that Tony shot and killed a man in Philadelphia when he was a 14 years old in 1993 and that all court records about his case were sealed.
Tony has said he killed in self-defense and that he was cleared of wrongdoing at a trial in Philadelphia juvenile court. But relatives and friends of the dead man, Hector “Chino” Rodriguez, dispute Tony’s account and say it was an act of cold-blooded murder. Because the court case is sealed, the dispute continues.
A number of informed sources have said that the FDLE has obtained law enforcement records from Philadelphia documenting Tony’s youthful felonious criminal history – an alleged history that nevertheless was not until very recently reflected on the city’s criminal court dockets.
Tony twice on adult probation
The lawsuit includes as exhibits copies of two docket sheets that purport to show that as a juvenile Tony was twice on adult probation in Philadelphia, in 1992 and again in 1994. Oddly, however, the dockets do not state the charge against Tony or its disposition.
“Based on conversations with authorities from Philadelphia, the convictions and probations were for felonies,” says the lawsuit brought on behalf of Republican H. Wayne Clark, Independent Charles E. Whatley and two Democrats who ran and lost to Tony in the August primary, Al Pollock and Santiago C. Vazquez Jr.
Notably, Tony’s closest primary opponent, former Sheriff Scott Israel, did not sign on to the lawsuit.
The suit accuses the FDLE of failing to adequately vet Tony when Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Israel and appointed Tony as sheriff shortly after being sworn in as governor in January 2019. On June 6, 2020, Florida Bulldog reported the cursory nature of the FDLE background investigation that failed to learn that Tony had killed a man or that he’d once been rejected for a police job after admitting he had used LSD.
Likewise, the suit accuses unelected Broward Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci of not enforcing the constitutional requirement that bars convicted felons from holding office. It says Antonacci failed to ask Tony to provide proof that he was acquitted of Rodriguez’s murder, and contends that Tony has refused to provide certified copies showing the disposition of the murder case as well as the two matters for which he was placed on adult probation.
Tony has not responded to Florida Bulldog’s prior requests to allow a reporter to view his Philadelphia court case.
“As a result of Tony’s actions, Antonacci’s oversight of this law and FDLE’s failure to vet and timely investigate Tony, plaintiffs, all Broward County taxpayers and qualified candidates for the Sheriff of Broward County position, have now had to expend time and resources challenging this qualification as their only recourse in the matter and will be irreparably harmed if Gregory Tony is allowed to proceed in the 2020 election,” the suit says.
The lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case are Deerfield Beach’s Darren P. Covar and Roger W. Powell of Cooper City. Candidate Clark is also a lawyer in the case. He works for a Miami law firm.