By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Over the summer, two different state agencies found probable cause to believe that Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony lied under oath for decades, including about his execution style slaying of a young man in Philadelphia when Tony was 14 years old.
What’s been done about it? Nothing.
Seven months ago, on June 21, a three-person panel of the state commission that certifies police officers – the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC) – reached that conclusion after reviewing a 20-page Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report that laid out in detail eight counts of “false affidavit perjury” involving Tony’s driver’s license applications. Such perjury is a felony, but no criminal charges were filed.
Five months ago, on Sept. 14, Florida’s Commission on Ethics voted 8-1 to find probable cause that Tony provided false information about himself to Gov. Ron DeSantis before the governor appointed him as sheriff in January 2019. A second finding of probable cause on the same facts made in a separate complaint was issued by the commission In December.
Anxious Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies, both current and former, are appalled by the lack of follow-up action by Gov. DeSantis – who hasn’t hesitated to remove other Florida officials for even non-criminal offenses – Attorney General Ashley Moody and the FDLE’s General Counsel’s Office. Broward residents, too, would like to see a resolution.
TONY DISPUTES PROBABLE CAUSE FINDING
What’s going on? Here’s where things stand today as indicated in public records:
An administrative complaint sent to Tony shortly after the CJSTC panel’s ruling states that Tony is “guilty” of violating a pair of laws and a rule of the Florida Administrative Code. It seeks an “appropriate penalty” that could include the revocation of Tony’s license to be a police officer. (A revocation would not affect Tony’s status as an elected sheriff).
On June 30, as was his right, Tony formally disputed the CJSTC’s probable cause finding and sought a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. Specifically, Tony challenged allegations that eight times between March 15, 2002, and February 1, 2019 he knowingly made false statements, concealed material facts or otherwise committed fraud in his driver’s license applications – actions the panel said established his lack of “good moral character” that’s required of police officers in Florida.
In December, Florida Bulldog was told that a shortage of lawyers at FDLE had led to a backlog of cases. So far this year, only three CJSTC cases from northern Florida have been filed at DOAH.
DID DESANTIS ASK FDLE TO HOLD OFF?
Asked about that in an email, the attorney handling the case, FDLE Assistant General Counsel Natalie Bielby, did not respond. Department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said, “We have been working to schedule a trial date with the attorney’s (sic) representing Sheriff Tony. No date has been set yet.”
Plessinger did not respond when asked why the department had not initiated a filing in the case after seven months. Likewise, there was no response to this question: “Has the governor’s office asked FDLE to hold off?”
Tony’s Tallahassee lawyer, Stephen Webster of the law firm Webster + Baptiste, did not respond to several requests for comment.
The situation with the ethics commission’s case against Tony, pending nearly as long, is a bit stranger.
In September, attorney Webster issued two statements about its decision that resonate today. He said Tony “looks forward to a swift finding of innocence” while declaring that it was “unprecedented” for the commission to have rejected the recommendation of Commission Advocate, and assistant attorney general, Melody Hadley that it should find no probable cause against Tony.
It’s clear now that a speedy resolution of Tony’s ethics case isn’t in the cards. And the comments of Commissioner Willie Meggs, a former Leon County State Attorney, underline the incongruity of Hadley’s incompatible recommendation.
‘BOGGLES MY MIND’
“It just boggles my mind that we sit here as an ethics commission, and we have someone who has basically committed acts by omitting and committing perjury in an application and we can’t find an ethics violation? I don’t get it,” Meggs said.
Following the probable cause vote ethics commission Chairman John Grant urged Webster and Tony to open negotiations with commission staff about settling the case. Without an agreement, the case would head for trial before a DOAH judge.
Five months later the ethics commission’s case, like the CJSTC’s case, has yet even to be filed at DOAH.
Why? It may further boggle the mind that the state official in charge of overseeing it for the past seven months, without any apparent progress, is Melody Hadley – who unsuccessfully and embarrassingly recommended Tony be allowed to walk away from the matter.
Hadley was out of the office and did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
But Whitney Ray, the Attorney General’s communications director, said, “As this matter and the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission administrative case are both still pending it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”