By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
There’s an interesting date on next month’s calendar that’s making the rounds in Broward and Tallahassee.
September 5th is supposedly the big day. It marks the date when Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony will have exactly 28 months remaining in his four-year term.
Why is that interesting or even noteworthy? Because of the confluence of speculation that Gov. Ron DeSantis, lately in a “remove and replace” mode, wants to oust the embattled Tony from office and is waiting until after that date to use his executive authority to do it.
If DeSantis truly wants to get rid of Tony, why the wait? Under the law, Tony’s removal on or before September 5th would result in a special election to replace him. After that date, the governor acquires the power to fill the vacancy he’d be creating – as he did last week with four hapless Democrats on Broward’s School Board, all women, whom he suspended and replaced with Republican men following the release of a critical grand jury report.
That power is spelled out in Florida Statute 114.04. The governor, it says, “shall fill by appointment” any state or county vacancy “if there is less than 28 months remaining in the term.” For Tony, that period begins September 6th. For DeSantis, it’s the day he gets the authority to pluck an embarrassing thorn lodged in his side since not long after he hastily appointed the former Coral Springs cop to be Broward’s 19th – and first black – sheriff on Jan. 11, 2019.
READING POLITICAL TEA LEAVES
Observers reading political tea leaves note that when DeSantis came to Broward this month to announce that his new election security office was busting 20 felons for voting illegally in 2020, he didn’t do it at the sheriff’s office, where he’s made announcements in the past. He chose the courthouse. The scene included hoopla, a handful of local bigwigs and a bunch of green-shirted deputies standing with the governor, but no Tony.
Tony’s clung tightly to his self-awarded five stars – other sheriffs across the country generally wear four stars on their collar – since May 2, 2020 when Florida Bulldog reported that as a 14-year-old living in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood he shot and killed a young man and never disclosed it to the governor. Tony, who later said he shot in self-defense, was acquitted but his account was challenged by the dead man’s family, and all juvenile court records in the case were either sealed or expunged.
In the immediate aftermath of that disclosure, the Miami Herald reported DeSantis distanced himself from his appointee saying, “he didn’t even know him.”
Four days later, Florida Bulldog reported that in January 2020, Tony signed a state affidavit declaring under oath that he never had a criminal record sealed or expunged. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation later found that while all records regarding Tony’s arrest for the murder of Hector Rodriguez “appeared to have been expunged” agents “were unable to find any documentation which identified who requested and/or caused said expungement.”
On May 11, 2020, Florida Bulldog reported that under Tony the Broward Sheriff’s Office paid as much as $750,000 to buy bleeding-control kits from a South Carolina company, North American Rescue LLC, that Tony did business with before he became sheriff, and where he worked as an executive for more than a year. North American Rescue employees later pumped $15,000 into Tony’s political action committee, including $5,000 from CEO and founder Robert Castellani two weeks after BSO issued a purchase order for the kits.
In April 2021, Florida Bulldog reported that the FBI was investigating Tony for suspected bid rigging, fraud and kickbacks involving BSO’s purchase of the bleeding-control kits. The case was later transferred to South Carolina by Tony’s friend, Miami Special Agent in Charge George Piro, then transferred back to South Florida after Piro departed Miami in mid-June.
FBI FAILED TO COOPERATE WITH FDLE
The bid-rigging probe continues to bizarrely zig and zag. After Piro left, the FBI handed the case to the FDLE, where authorities privately complained that the FBI failed to further cooperate or provide any documents from their investigation.
FDLE agents took the case to state fraud prosecutors in Fort Myers who refused to get involved. FDLE officials now characterize the case as “dormant,” but there are rumors the Miami FBI may reopen it.
20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Amira Fox’s office had overseen a separate FDLE two-year investigation of Tony after receiving a complaint that Tony made numerous false statements under oath, including on the state affidavit where he declared he’d never had a case sealed or expunged.
In January 2022, FDLE’s report was made public. It showed that while Tony declined to be interviewed, agents determined that nearly all of Tony’s alleged lies were either too old to prosecute or there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed. Still, the FDLE recommended Tony be criminally charged with “false affidavit perjury” for lying when he falsely swore on a 2019 driver’s license application that he’d never had his license suspended in any other state. In fact, Pennsylvania had suspended Tony’s license.
Fox’s office wrote a memo intending to justify its decision to decline to prosecute, but left out key facts about the perjury investigation.
When questioned by reporters about the matter at a Miami press conference, Gov. DeSantis said, “We’re going to review everything…in the coming days,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.
FDLE felt strongly enough to refer their perjury case against Sheriff Tony to the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. In June, a three-person CJSTC panel found “probable cause” to believe the allegations against the sheriff were true and that Tony’s police license should be revoked. (A revocation would not preclude Tony, as an elected official, from continuing to serve as sheriff.)
Tony, as is his right, has said he wants a formal hearing before a judge at the state Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). He’s retained as his lawyer Tallahassee attorney Stephen G. Webster.
At the hearing, both sides will present evidence. The judge will later issue a “recommended order,” which will be sent to the CJSTC for final action.
The division’s docket indicates the case has not yet been filed.