By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A political committee that has supported Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, Broward First, paid nearly $50,000 to a pair of high-powered law firms that represent him personally in a civil suit brought by opponents who contend he is a convicted felon, and thus ineligible to serve as sheriff.
The arrangement could violate both state law and BSO policy regulating the acceptance of gifts by Florida’s public officers and BSO employees if the payments were made by the political committee to compensate the firms for their representation of Tony.
Florida Statute 112.31485 prohibits public officials like Tony from “knowingly accepting, directly or indirectly, any gift from a political committee.” Likewise political committees, which can accept unlimited contributions, are barred from giving gifts to public officials.
A “gift” is defined as “any purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance transfer of funds, or disbursement of money or anything of value that is not primarily related to contributions, expenditures, or other political activities authorized pursuant to chapter 106”— Florida’s campaign finance laws.
Similarly, the Broward Sheriff’s Policy Manual on gifts and gratuities states flatly, “No employee of this agency shall solicit or accept a gift or gratuity from a political committee or from a lobbyist who lobbies the Broward Sheriff’s Office.”
Violators face a civil penalty by the state equal to three times the amount of the gift. The law also holds them personally liable to pay that treble penalty. Public officers like Tony face additional penalties that include possible removal or suspension from office or public censure and reprimand.
Lawyers for Tony
The Broward First PAC paid $25,000 on Nov. 11 to Boies Schiller Flexner – 12 days after the Broward lawsuit was filed against Tony, according to Broward Supervisor of Elections records. On Nov. 18, Boies Schiller attorneys made their first appearance in the case asking the court to block plaintiffs from taking Tony’s video deposition.
The Boies Schiller lawyers are Stephen N. Zack, a former president of the American Bar Association, and Jon L. Mills, a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Neither Zack nor Mills responded to requests for comment.
Records show, too, that on Sept. 11, 2020 Broward First paid Fort Lauderdale’s Moskowitz, Mandell, Salim & Simowitz $24,455 for unspecified “legal services.” Name partner Michael Moskowitz is now leading his firm’s representation of Tony in the lawsuit.
The Broward First PAC paid no other law firms. The PAC has reported it raised and spent nearly $1.6 million through Election Day. Fort Lauderdale hedge fund boss S. Donald Sussman was the PAC’s biggest contributor, giving a total of $900,000, including $100,00 three days after the Nov. 3 election that Tony won decisively – leaving Broward First with about $105,000 in cash at the end of November.
Broward First was set up by Adam Nadler, owner of CrossFit Immersion, the Coral Springs gym where Tony and Andrew Pollack, father of slain Parkland student Meadow Pollack, once trained together. It was Pollack who recommended Tony, a former city police officer and businessman, to Gov. Ron DeSantis for appointment as sheriff.
Nadler did not respond to requests for comment. But on Tuesday the attorney for Broward First, Natalie Kato, said, “The lawsuit against Sheriff Tony is challenging his qualifications as a candidate for office, and named the supervisor of elections as a party. This is clearly a lawsuit that is related to his activities as a candidate for public office, and was filed in order to influence the results of the recent election. Political committees such as Broward First are allowed to make expenditures to influence the results of an election, including legal fees to defend a candidate against an elections challenge such as this.”
The lawsuit was filed against Tony on Oct. 30, days before the Nov. 3 general election, by his Republican opponent, H. Wayne Clark Jr., independent candidate Charles E. Whatley and two Democratic rivals, Al Pollock and Santiago C. Vasquez Jr. Each of those candidates lost to Tony.
At its core, the lawsuit contends that evidence has emerged that Tony is apparently a convicted felon, and that for years he’s been lying to cover it up. Under the Florida Constitution, felons whose civil rights have not been restored are disqualified from holding public office.
Tony’s lawyers have moved to dismiss the complaint. “The instant action is a classic example of abusing the judicial system in an effort to achieve an illegitimate end. Plaintiffs have concocted a completely frivolous lawsuit in a misguided effort to punish a former political opponent,” says the motion by Moskowitz, Zack and Mills.
The case is being heard by Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson.
Tony’s alleged ineligibility arises from Philadelphia court records that purport to show that Tony was twice placed on adult probation when he was a teenager in 1992 and 1994. The court dockets don’t state the charges, or their disposition, but the lawsuit says “based on conversations with authorities from Philadelphia, the convictions and probations were for felonies.”
The lawsuit also cites Tony’s 1993 arrest for murder in the shooting death of 19-year-opld 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. A police report said Tony was found not guilty, but the court file was sealed by the judge and no court records about it are public.
While Tony has insisted that the killing was justified because Rodriguez was armed and he was in fear for his life, he has not produced any records to verify his account. Likewise, he has not publicly denied the accusation that he is a convicted felon.
In an affidavit filed in the case last month, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent acknowledged that Tony’s alleged criminal past is under investigation in conjunction with its inquiry into whether Tony made a false declaration under oath last January when he signed an FDLE affidavit declaring he’d never had a criminal records sealed or expunged.
Inspector Keith Riddick wrote that subpoenas seeking Pennsylvania court records regarding Tony are outstanding and that “FDLE is currently waiting on a response.”