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What to do about Broward Sheriff, his lies and scalding FDLE report? Three months on, Gov. DeSantis can’t, or won’t, make a decision

broward sheriff
Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, and Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

Three months into pondering what to do about Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, who public-corruption agents found repeatedly lied over the years on official records, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to ponder as an anxious sheriff’s office wonders what’s going on.

A two-year investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined last year that many of Tony’s alleged lies could not be criminally prosecuted because they fall outside the state’s Statute of Limitations. But another allegation, that Tony committed perjury when he lied while seeking a new driver’s license just three weeks after he was sworn in on Jan. 11, 2019, was considered “potentially viable” after FDLE recommended Tony be charged with felony perjury.

Still, the criminal case came to nothing when Anthony Kunasek, a state prosecutor in Fort Myers, dropped the matter in late January, saying it could not be proved whether Tony’s false statement – answering “no” when asked whether his driving privileges had ever been suspended in another state – was intentional. In fact, Pennsylvania had suspended Tony’s driver’s license five times. Kunasek “suggested” FDLE submit the case to the often-ineffective Florida ethics commission for review.

(Kunasek, 55, was found dead in his Lee County home on Saturday, shortly after the start of a murder trial he was prosecuting. Authorities told local news outlets that Kunasek’s death was not a homicide.)

BROWARD SHERIFF STAYS MUM

Throughout it all, Broward Sheriff Tony chose to stay silent – as is his right. According to the FDLE’s report, released in January, state agents requested an interview, but on June 28, 2021 “Tony’s attorney, Michael Moskowitz, advised that Tony declined to provide OEI [Office of Executive Investigations] Inspectors an interview.”

The focus on making a criminal case stick against Sheriff Tony, however, has forestalled other official lines of inquiry to get at the truth and provide the governor with more information.

Attorney Gary Kollin

“There are a number of avenues that could be undertaken to ferret out whether the untrue response was intentionally made by Tony,” said Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Gary Kollin.

For example, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) can revoke a driver’s license obtained by “fraud or misrepresentation.” As the FDLE has established that Tony’s response when asked whether his driving privileges had ever been suspended in another state was false, the department could notify Tony that unless he corrects his response his license would be revoked.

As explained by Kollin, Tony would then have the choice to admit to the falsity of his application or have his license revoked. “If revoked, the governor could consider the revocation administratively in his determination whether Tony is able to perform his duties as Broward sheriff without a driver’s license in deciding whether to suspend Tony and to terminate his position as sheriff as he did with [former sheriff] Scott Israel,” Kollin said.

OTHER INVESTIGATIVE TOOLS

A DHSMV spokesman did not respond when asked whether the department has notified Tony that his license will be revoked unless he corrects his untrue statement or say whether it has taken any action in response to the FDLE’s findings.

Further, State Attorney Amira Fox of the 20th Judicial Circuit, who assigned Kunasek to the case, could issue an investigative subpoena to confer what’s known as “use immunity” on Tony, requiring him to answer questions about his untrue statements. His responses could not be used prosecute him, but again could be considered administratively by the governor.

Law enforcement authorities have another investigative tool – a “Garrity” Statement.

When misconduct occurs, Garrity statements allow public employers like BSO to question deputies and compel their response under oath. Deputies are protected from being forced to incriminate themselves because they cannot be prosecuted criminally for what they say. Their statements, however, can be used in making administrative determinations as to whether disciplinary action is warranted.

DeSantis appointed Tony in 2019 after removing Israel for his alleged leadership failures in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in February 2018. He named Tony, however, after rushing a background check that failed to uncover Tony’s previous lies or the fact that at age 14, he’d been arrested for murder.

Florida Bulldog first reported Tony’s murder arrest in May 2020. That story touched off widespread scrutiny by the Bulldog and other media into Tony’s past as well as BSO’s expensive purchases of bleeding-control kits from Tony’s former employer.

‘WE’RE GOING TO REVIEW EVERYTHING’

Shortly after news broke about FDLE’s report on Tony’s many falsehoods and prosecutors’ decision not to prosecute, Gov. DeSantis told reporters at a press conference in Miami, “We’re going to review everything…in the coming days,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.

DeSantis’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment. But the governor’s apparent indecision as to what action, if any, is appropriate could lead him to order the FDLE to take Tony’s Garrity statement. So far, he has not done that, according to law enforcement sources.

At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the Internal Affairs Division is central to achieving the policy goal of securing the public’s trust in the office’s integrity.

“A foundation of trust with the community is critical to the effectiveness of any public safety organization. In order to maintain this relationship, public employees are expected to maintain high ethical and moral standards. The employee complaint and disciplinary process serves to provide transparency and honesty when reviewing the actions of employees,” says the Sheriff’s Policy Manual.

IA investigates all allegations of employee misconduct, frequently compelling deputies’ Garrity statements. Except in the case of Sheriff Tony.

Part of the reason is the inherent conflict of interest that would occur if IA investigated the sheriff. Not only does the sheriff employ the IA detectives who would examine his actions, he also ultimately decides the outcomes of IA investigations.

TONY ISN’T A BSO EMPLOYEE

More fundamentally, Tony isn’t considered a BSO employee, according to Nova Southeastern University law professor Robert Jarvis. That’s so even though Tony draws an annual sheriff’s office salary of $199,629, gets healthcare and other benefits, and drives a BSO car.

Nova law professor Robert Jarvis

“He is a constitutional officer, and it was the intention of the people that put together the Florida Constitution that sheriffs would be superintended by the governor with the ultimate decision making by the Florida Senate,” said Jarvis. “A constitutional officer cannot lose their job unless the governor suspends them and the Senate removes them.”

The Constitution sets no time limit on the governor’s review of Tony’s case or his recommendation to the Senate. Once a matter gets to the Senate, however, a trial must be held within six months.

“We saw this with [Sen.] Rick Scott who made the decision when he was governor that he was going to leave the issue of Scott Israel to his successor because he was running for Senate and didn’t want this cause him a problem,’’ Jarvis said.

Bottom line: BSO has no policy that deals with potential disciplinary action against an errant sheriff.

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Latest comments

  • This is a tough case to make a decision on. Obviously the Sherriff Tony did lie on his employment application. Lying is bad. Especially for a law enforcement officer. And then there is the other side of the issue.
    Has this candidate for law enforcement been 100% truthful about his youth, he would NOT have been allowed to become a law enforcement officer much less Sheriff. The reality of that situation has been pretty much acknowledged by the law enforcement community. Tell the truth in this case and be denied a career in law enforcement.
    So comes the second part of the issue. Irrespective of his past, Is Sherriff Tony a good Sheriff? I heard him speak for about 20 minutes on a radio interview about a year ago. He sure said the right stuff. He was promoting women within the department, and insuring there would be no sexual or minority discrimination. He was increasing community policing to integrate police into the community rather than rule from outside. In general his attitude and concerns about better policing sounded genuine and sincere. I have no idea how effectively he has succeeded in these goals. I haven’t heard too much negativity from the Police Union which often is on the outs with the Police Chief or Sheriff.
    The important question; “Is Sheriff Tony doing a good job?”
    I’m not sure he committed a mortal sin in lying about his past to get the “opportunity to succeed” in law enforcement. It’s takes a strong person to head up a big diverse policing force. Off hand he strikes me as being a strong person and hopefully has the right goals. I could forgive the past for a positive performance in the present.

  • Totally agree with Carl Buehler.

  • Most are wondering WHY the Govenor is taking this long to remove Tony ! Thank you Florida Bulldog for your Investigations putting the needed pressure on the Govenor to do the right thing. Even Parkland said they do not trust a sheriff with his criminal record. Integrity is everything in law enforcement, whether you are the sheriff or working the streets. Tony has wrongfully terminated deputies for policy violations but he stays in office ? Politics aside, it’s clear the Governor must remove Tony.

  • The Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC) has decertified many officers for far, far less.
    If this will be the new standard then CJSTC should reinstate those officers who lost their ability to remain an officer for far less infractions.
    Otherwise, we have a double standard in place and should as least acknowledge it so it’s all transparent.
    If it’s good for one, it must be good for all. If it’s bad for one, it must be bad for all, including sheriffs.

  • What anout his “questionable” birth certificate and social security card?

  • A politician has repeatedly lied. Color me shocked!

    Yes this is a law enforcement officer and the appearances are even worse for this fact. But this is a case of mixing standards and adjudicating actions for a political purpose. Multiple purposes actually.

    Broward county has always been a mess if you read any of the history books.
    This is another unfortunate case of Sheriffs that are an embarrassment to everyone with a practiced eye for this sort of thing.

  • If anyone knows the truth it should be Sheriff Tony. Publicly address these accusations, one by one and clear the air. If on the other hand it is found that he has been dishonest from the very beginning of a law enforcement career and perhaps before that, then there is no place in law enforcement for a person of such character. He is a public figure and as such is fair game for full blown public scrutiny. As presented, the allegations are disturbing. I was in law enforcement 35 years. No one with this backlog of accusations would have ever been allowed to rise to the executive level without a thorough vetting and background investigation.

  • De Santis will not be re-elected, and not just because of this.

  • A lying, wife swapping killer as County Sheriff. A great role model for children. Broward County deserves better. But the Sheriffs constituency see only one attribute. So does the governor. The mans race. If he was white he would be long gone.

  • SPOT-ON JB! THIS GUY IS ONLY SHERIFF BECAUSE HE AND ANDREW POLLACK (FATHER OF PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIM), WERE “GYM BUDDIES…” DESANTIS WILL NOT REMOVE HIM. THIS IS NOT ABOUT “INTEGRITY,” IT’S ABOUT POLITICS!

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