By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s criminal investigation of Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony for making a false declaration under oath last January has expanded to include a probe into whether the sheriff lied to cover up that he’s a convicted felon, as well as other still-confidential matters.
FDLE’s first public acknowledgement of its investigation of Tony is contained in a sworn affidavit made by FDLE Inspector Keith Riddick in a pending lawsuit brought by four losing candidates for sheriff, Broward Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci and Judge Kenneth Gottlieb in his capacity as chair of the county’s canvassing board.
Florida Bulldog reported in May that Tony signed a FDLE affidavit in January declaring under oath that he never had a criminal record sealed or expunged. The story followed the Bulldog’s May 2 report disclosing that Tony shot and killed a man in 1993 when he was a 14-year-old living in a poor, urban Philadelphia neighborhood. Tony has said he killed in self defense, but his account is disputed by the dead man’s girlfriend, who said he was apparently unarmed and that the shooting was prompted by an argument.
Florida Bulldog obtained a Philadelphia police homicide report outlining key events in the case, but all other criminal and juvenile records relating to the killing are sealed.
Until now, FDLE has said nothing about its investigation of Tony. But the two-page affidavit provided to plaintiffs’ attorneys and dated Nov. 24 is explicit.
“FDLE currently has an open and active investigation into the allegations that Gregory Tony may have falsified required affidavits associated with his sworn law enforcement officer status and/or falsified official law enforcement employment applications,” Riddick wrote. “The status of FDLE’s investigation into Gregory Tony remains ongoing as to Plaintiff’s allegations as well as other undisclosed matters that will remain confidential.”
Riddick’s signed and notarized affidavit goes on to say that FDLE “issued subpoenas to certain Governmental Agencies with the State of Pennsylvania requesting disclosure of official court records, law enforcement agency files and criminal arrest records pertaining to Gregory Tony. Said subpoenas were issued by the Broward County State Attorney’s Office.”
The subpoenas were served to the agencies in Pennsylvania on May 11 and again on Sept. 4. “FDLE is currently waiting on a response to the subpoena issued in this investigation for Philadelphia County court records,” Riddick wrote.
Tony has yet to publicly address the accusation that he is a convicted felon. He did not respond to an emailed request for comment on the matter from Florida Bulldog.
Two new lawsuits
On Monday afternoon, Tony’s Republican opponent H. Wayne Clark filed a five-page complaint asking Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson to declare that Tony is a convicted felon, a status that under the Florida Constitution would disqualify Tony from holding public office, and to declare Clark “the winner of the election.”
Hours later, former Sheriff Scott Israel – who lost to Tony in last August’s Democratic primary – filed a similar complaint. Israel contends that Tony, as a felon, was ineligible under the constitution to be nominated by the Democratic Party to run in the general election. Both Clark and Israel say they learned of Tony’s felonious past after their respective elections.
“Plaintiff seeks to enjoin Gregory Tony from being sworn in and [to] declare him ineligible to hold office,” both lawsuits say.
Three active lawsuits now seek Tony’s ouster. The first was filed Oct. 30 by Clark and three other unsuccessful candidates, not including Israel, in the primary and general elections.
In the general election Tony outpaced Clark in heavily Democratic Broward by nearly two to one – with 63.3 percent, or 578,536 votes to Clark’s 32.09 percent, or 293,170 votes. Independent Charles “Chuck” Whatley collected just four percent, or 37,572 votes.
In the six-candidate August democratic primary, Tony beat second-place finisher Israel by 79,498 to 74,778 votes.
Sheriff dodged process
Sheriff Tony, who dodged process servers for two weeks before finally being served with official notice of the first lawsuit on Nov. 12, did not attend a court hearing Monday morning. He was, however, represented by a trio of high-priced, well-known lawyers: former American Bar Association president Stephen Zack, former Florida House of Representatives Speaker Jon Mills – both with the powerhouse firm Boies Schiller Flexner – and Michael Moskowitz, an influential Broward government and health-care attorney.
Monday’s hearing didn’t last long. The judge granted a motion by Tony’s lawyers to delay the hearing until after Thanksgiving.
The Florida Constitution’s anti-felony requirement was invoked one year ago in Ocala when Tyrone E. Oliver was barred from taking a seat on the city council due to a felony drug conviction three decades ago, according to news reports. A special election to replace him was held last March, and a runoff after that.
Tony signed a candidate oath last June declaring he was qualified under the constitution and the laws of Florida to hold office. The constitution says, “No person convicted of a felony, or adjudicated in this or any other state to be mentally incompetent, shall be qualified to vote or hold office until restoration of civil rights or removal of disability.”
In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 that restored voting rights for most felons. The amendment, however, did not restore other civil rights to felons such as the right to serve on a jury or to hold public office.