By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
When state prosecutors decided in January not to charge Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony with felony perjury for lying under oath on his application for a replacement driver’s license, the prosecutor’s memo announcing and explaining that decision omitted significant facts.
The facts are contained in the tape-recorded, sworn statement of the Florida driver’s license examiner who took Tony’s license application. Florida Bulldog obtained a copy of examiner Brittni Romero’s oral statement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement using the state’s public records law.
A two-year FDLE investigation determined Tony lied repeatedly about his past when applying for law-enforcement jobs and training, including keeping secret his 1993 arrest for murder in Philadelphia when he was 14. Tony, who was later acquitted in juvenile court, declined to be interviewed by FDLE agents.
Most of Tony’s numerous false statements, which deliberately “misled public servants in the performance of their official duties,” were impossible to prosecute because of Florida’s Statute of Limitations, according to the FDLE’s 15-page report. But Tony’s alleged perjury at the Lauderdale Lakes driver’s license office on Feb. 1, 2019 – just 22 days after his appointment as sheriff by Gov. Ron DeSantis – were another matter.
Tony had gone to the driver’s license office in uniform to legally obtain a new license that would remove his home address and replace it with his address at the sheriff’s office. He was accompanied by his then-executive officer, now BSO Col. Munib Ahmed.
PERJURY PROBE FALLS FLAT
FDLE had recommended that Tony be charged with felony perjury after determining he “knowingly and willfully” lied when he told examiner Romero he’d never had his driver’s license suspended in any state when in fact Tony’s Pennsylvania driver’s license had been suspended five times.
But Anthony Kunasek, special prosecutions chief for Fort Myers State Attorney Amira Fox, rejected FDLE’s recommendation and declined to prosecute Tony in a close out memo that cited what he said was examiner Romero’s “original uncertainty” about Tony in her sworn statement to FDLE:
“When asked by the FDLE agent, ‘do you remember if you asked him, if you specifically asked him, ‘has your driving privilege ever been revoked, suspended or denied in any state?’ the clerk answered, ‘I don’t remember. That’s the first question, so I probably did, but I don’t remember one hundred percent if I asked him that.’ The fact that the clerk, later in her statement seems to be more confident of her having asked the Sheriff the pertinent question, does not undo her original uncertainty.”
Kunasek continued, “The clerk’s testimony would be paramount in any criminal prosecution of Sheriff Tony regarding the alleged allegations. In fact, the prosecution would need to rely completely on the clerk’s testimony…The clerk’s uncertainty as to whether she actually asked Sheriff Tony the questions, and his actual answer, was then documented by the clerk, precludes the state from being able to prove the criminal allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Following Fox’s office decision, Gov. DeSantis announced that he would review the case. So far, though, the governor has said nothing more about Tony.
NOT THE FULL STORY
It turns out now, however, that the cross-state prosecutors, who handled Tony’s perjury case after Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor punted, didn’t tell the public the full story.
Kunasek’s characterization of Romero’s testimony doesn’t mention that Romero, both before and after that part of her statement, said she always asks the revocation/suspension question of applicants because it is on the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) required list of questions.
For example, toward the outset of Romero’s 17-minute testimony FDLE Inspector Keith Riddick asked, “Do you ask those every time?”
“Yes,” Romero said.
“That’s required by your training? Yes.”
As Kunasek’s memo says, “The issue that causes concern involves the actual answer to the question in question, and how that answer was received and electronically documented. The allegation is that Sheriff Tony provided the “no” answer to the pertinent question asked by the clerk.”
But Kunasek’s report then misrepresents the significance of what Romero had to say about how she processed Tony that day. Kunasek said Romero “initially stated that she may have marked or ‘pulled over’ information from a previous application as she was trying to hurry or rush Sheriff Tony through the process.”
The implication: that Romero had mistakenly pulled over Tony’s “no” answer from an earlier form.
But in a separate interview DHSMV Systems Evaluation Unit manager Barbara Peacock had told FDLE that was not possible. “Ms. Peacock stated that ‘the system’ and the examiner’s training did not allow for an applicant’s answer from a prior driver’s license examination to be ‘brought over’ during a new exam,’” the FDLE report says. “Questions were asked during every application process and the applicant’s new individual answers were recorded during that application process.”
Romero also had explained that some information on the electronic forms, such as an applicant’s date, place of birth and address, are automatically brought over into the application from prior information contained in DHSMV’s system. She recalled changing Tony’s address after verifying that was proper with a supervisor.
Inspector Riddick later showed Romero a printout of the list of questions she asked, including the one about prior license revocations or suspensions, on what’s called the “Statement of Applicant Concerning License or ID Card.”
“Do you recall filling this out or bringing it over?” asked Riddick.
“I had to fill those out.”
“With answers given to you by him?”
“If he had told you that he had a previously suspended license in the State of Pennsylvania would you have filled out this out-of-state license information section?” Riddick said, referring to a part of the form where an examiner can fill in information about an out-of-state suspension.
“If he said yes when I asked him has your driver’s license has ever been revoked, suspended or denied in any state. (But) he said ‘no,’ then I press no. If he said yes, it would give me the option. I would ask him which state and then…he would tell me and I could just put the state of Pennsylvania.”
Tony answered “no,” according to the form.
‘UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY’
A few moments later, Romero reiterated her procedure.
“Do you remember when you renewed Sheriff Tony’s license on this date having to ask him about a suspended Pennsylvania driver’s license?” said Riddick.
“I asked the question. I remember. I know I always ask the question about that. And if he said no, he said (garbled)…”
“But if he had said yes?”
“Then I would have put yes,” Romero said.
“You would have put yes, and put all that in.”
“So therefor he told you no?”
Finally, at the end of the process, Tony signed this statement, “Under penalty of perjury, I swear or affirm that the information given by me in this application is true and correct.”
Yet prosecutor Kunasek’s memo closing the case does not acknowledge Romero’s testimony about that, including her statement that she read those words about perjury to him before he signed.
“We have to read it out loud to them,” she told Riddick. “And it also shows up on the signature pad as well…And he has to read that on the signature pad, and accept it [by checking a box], and then sign his name. And that signature that he puts is the one that appears on his driver’s license.”