By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony spent much of last week dodging process servers looking to hand him court papers that would officially notify him that a lawsuit filed against him seeks to disqualify him from serving as sheriff.
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 30, contends that Tony is likely a convicted felon, and indicates that for years he’s been lying to cover it up. Under Florida’s constitution, felons whose civil rights have not been restored are disqualified from holding public office.
An emergency hearing set for Thursday before Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson was canceled after Tony’s lawyer, Michael Moskowitz, notified the judge that Tony had not been served. Tony was still not served as of Saturday night.
In an emailed interview, Moskowitz on Friday derided the lawsuit as “nothing.”
“They filed this lawsuit with NO evidence to support their allegations. Just their ‘belief.’ That doesn’t support a lawsuit and this case is nothing more than political theater. Courts see thru this stuff and I am confident that Judge Robinson will see this for what it is – nothing.”
Asked if he had declined to accept service on Tony’s behalf, Moskowitz said, “As for service of process – that is the Plaintiff’s obligation to obtain. They failed to do so as specifically instructed by the court. Their failures cannot be excused by their effort to shift blame and ask us to accept service.”
Sheriff Tony’s rivals-turned-plaintiffs
The lawsuit was filed by H. Wayne Clark Jr., the Republican who lost decisively to Tony in last Tuesday’s general election; Charles E. Whatley, an independent candidate who also lost, and two Democrats who lost to Tony in the August primary, Al Pollock and Santiago C. Vasquez Jr.
The suit accused the Florida Department of Law Enforcement of failing to adequately vet Tony when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Tony as sheriff in January 2019 and Broward Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci of not enforcing the constitutional requirement that bars convicted felons from holding office.
An amended complaint filed the day before the election added Broward County Court Judge Kenneth Gottlieb as chair of the Broward County Canvassing Board that certifies election results.
The plaintiffs asked the court to block Antonacci and Gottlieb from “consummating, tallying, certifying or reporting” the election results for sheriff “as a result of Tony being an ineligible candidate for Sheriff of Broward County.”
Tony’s alleged ineligibility arises from Philadelphia court records that purport to show that Tony was twice on adult probation when he was a teenager in 1992 and again in 1994. The court dockets do not state the charges against Tony, or their disposition, but the lawsuit says, “based on conversations with authorities from Philadelphia, the convictions and probations were for felonies.”
Backing up that assertion are affidavits from two private investigators who contacted authorities in Philadelphia. One affidavit by Mike Fisten, a former Miami-Dade homicide detective who now operates Hollywood’s Blue Line Investigative Solutions, says he learned from current and former law enforcement officers in the city that as a teenager Tony was arrested in 1992 and 1994 for unknown offenses that were filed in adult court. Those sources also told him that in the 1990s police could only direct-file arrested juveniles to adult court if they were charged with a number of serious felonies, such as murder rape, aggravated assault, robbery, etc.
The 1993 murder charge
The lawsuit also cites Tony’s 1993 arrest for murder in the shooting death of 19-year-old Hector “Chino” Rodriguez. Florida Bulldog reported on May 2 that Tony, then 14, was initially charged as an adult by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, but that the homicide case was soon transferred to Juvenile Court, where it went to trial in December 1993. Tony was found not guilty, according to a police report, but the court file was ordered sealed by the judge and no court records about it are public.
The lawsuit says Tony “has refused to provide certified court documents” to verify his acquittal.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been investigating Tony since shortly after Florida Bulldog reported on May 6 that on Jan. 7 Tony signed an FDLE affidavit declaring under oath that he never had a criminal record sealed or expunged. The form includes a notice above Tony’s signature that it constitutes an official statement under the law and that any “intentional omission” or “false execution…shall constitute a misdemeanor of the second degree and disqualify the officer for employment as an officer.”
The lawsuit contends that not only did FDLE fail to adequately investigate Tony’s background before the governor appointed him sheriff last year, but that it now has in its possession “information regarding Tony’s criminal history which would disqualify Tony from being a Florida Law Enforcement Officer or a Florida Public Office Holder.”
The plaintiffs asked the court to order FDLE employees having knowledge of Tony’s “criminal history and convictions” to sit for depositions and to respond to discovery seeking records.
Court records show the plaintiffs have set a video deposition via Zoom for Nov. 13 with FDLE Inspector Keith Riddick.
Further, the plaintiffs’ attorneys – Deerfield Beach’s Darren P. Covar, Cooper City’s Roger W. Powell and plaintiff H. Wayne Clark, a lawyer with the Miami firm Foley Mansfield – have issued a subpoena to compel Zoom testimony and records from the records custodian for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. That video deposition is also scheduled for Nov. 13.