By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony hasn’t filed paperwork to run for re-election next year, but there’s no doubt now that he’s running – despite a mountain of bad news, including findings by two state commissions that there’s probable cause to believe that he’s lied repeatedly under oath.
At the same time, state records show that the first case against Tony, which includes a recommendation that his license as a police officer be revoked, is now set for trial during a two-day hearing on Nov. 1-2.
How do we know Tony wants to be sheriff for another four-year term? Last week, he emailed a select few looking to raise funds “so we can button this race up before it even gets started.” Over the weekend, a copy was obtained and posted on Facebook by Citizens Over Politics – COPS, a group run by Gary Karp, an ex-assistant to former Sheriff Al Lamberti.
“I wanted to personally reach out to you today and ask for your financial support so we can continue to make [the] Broward Sheriff’s Office the best in the country. Would you consider rushing a contribution to my political committee, Broward First?” Tony wrote.
“Since taking office, I’ve led several successful initiatives that have transformed the Broward Sheriff’s Office into the most professional and accountable public safety agency in Florida – and I’m just getting started. I need your help to continue to build off our progress.”
Tony’s declaration that Broward First is “my committee” would seem a risky turn of a phrase to describe a political action committee (PAC) that claims in its organizational paperwork to be “independent.” Yet it does acknowledge today’s sad reality – that it’s true because enforcement is nil.
‘HONORED IN THE BREACH’
“The candidate can’t be communicating and sharing data and whatever with the PAC, but of course it’s honored in the breach,” said attorney Eugene Stearns, a founder of Miami’s Stearns Weaver Miller. “Just read the newspaper every day, those that are left, and look at the extent to which very prominent candidates are doing precisely that.” He noted that includes Gov. Ron DeSantis in his run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Tony was elected in 2020 as more than a million and a half dollars flooded into Broward First – an IRS-ordained 527 organization that can legally accept unlimited contributions. Most of it flowed from the generous checkbook of one man – billionaire S. Donald Sussman, the Fort Lauderdale hedge fund manager and founder of Paloma Partners.
But election records show that today there’s only about $200,000 left in Broward First’s coffers. So, it’s time to restock. The big question: Will Sussman kick in again in a big way?
Meanwhile, as Tony begins to ramp up fundraising, there’s a surprise twist out of Tallahassee’s Division of Administrative Hearings. The first case to be adjudicated will be the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC) probable cause findings regarding Tony’s alleged perjury, not charges by the state ethics commission, most notably his failure to disclose his arrest for homicide during the gubernatorial appointment process to become sheriff. The public can attend the hearing, to include witnesses, which will be held online via Zoom conference.
Despite the seriousness of the charges, the CJSTC’s case has been on a glacially slow track. The CJSTC found probable cause in June 2022 to believe Tony showed a lack of “good moral character” after the FDLE cited him for eight counts of “false affidavit perjury” regarding Tony’s driver’s license applications. Because of that, the commission decided, Tony’s police license should be yanked.
TONY AS A KILLER
While revocation would be an embarrassment that would mean Tony could no longer be a cop or wear a BSO uniform with his unique display of five stars pinned onto his lapels, he would remain Broward’s elected sheriff. Tony, who was certified in 2005, was a policeman in Coral Springs where he rose to the rank of sergeant.
Tony refused to be interviewed by FDLE agents as they conducted a wide-ranging investigation of him that began six days after Florida Bulldog reported exclusively on May 2, 2020 that as a 14-year-old in Philadelphia in 1993 Tony shot and killed a young man.
Tony was arrested, jailed and charged with murder, but was acquitted in juvenile court. All court records in the case are sealed and Tony’s version of what happened, that he killed in self-defense, took a serious hit when the FDLE obtained and made public Philadelphia police records recounting witness statements to detectives that Tony wasn’t defending himself and killed in cold blood.
Tony never disclosed the killing to Gov. DeSantis before DeSantis appointed him as sheriff in January 2019 to replace Scott Israel, who gained notoriety in the fallout from the infamous Parkland school killings.
In the meantime, Republican DeSantis has suspended two elected Democratic prosecutors – Orange County State Attorney Monique Worrell and Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren – for neglect of duty, but has left Democrat Tony untouched despite his tempestuous administration.
‘FALSE AFFIDAVIT PERJURY’
Tony’s lack of disclosure about his arrest for murder, his statements under oath that he did not have his case sealed and certain other instances of alleged lies were dropped by the CJSTC as either “lacking sufficient evidence” or “barred by the statute of limitations.”
Instead, the CJSTC upheld FDLE findings regarding false affidavit perjury for allegedly lying on official driver’s license paperwork in March 2002, February 2004, October 2005, August 2007, December 2013, March 2017, June 2017 and February 2019. That last offense was committed just weeks after Tony was sworn in as sheriff.
But Tony’s Tallahassee lawyer, Stephen Webster, moved on Friday to get most of the case dismissed.
“The CJSTC does not have the lawful authority to prosecute the allegations which are alleged to have occurred in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2013,” Webster argued. He called those allegations “stale and untimely.”
Prosecutor Natalie Bielby, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) assistant general counsel, countered Wednesday that Webster’s argument was “totally incorrect.”
Administrative law judge Robert Kilbride will decide.
Tony’s ethics case, which had appeared to be moving more swiftly toward trial, reached the probable-cause level when the commission voted 8-1 in September 2022 to find probable cause that Tony not only lied repeatedly while renewing his driver’s license, but concealed his homicide arrest from Gov. DeSantis and lied about his criminal history to both the FDLE and the Coral Springs Police Department to advance his career.
The ethics commission made a second finding of probable cause on the same facts in a separate complaint that was issued by the commission in December 2022.
That case, before administrative law judge June McKinney, is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Melody Hadley, an ethics commission advocate.