Marion Co. sheriff-elect's transition on hold as FDLE conducts 'expedited investigation'
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.
Sheriff-elect Chris Blair’s transition to power was put on hold Wednesday after state investigators asked for a month-long delay to probe possible illegal election activity.
Sheriff Ed Dean said in a press release that Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey requested a 30-day delay to conduct an “expedited investigation”
Dean, in his statement, congratulated Blair on his victory in Tuesday’s election and added that he understood the need for an “orderly transition” and that he was prepared to help make that happen — that is, until Bailey intervened.
The sheriff declined to comment further on the nature of the FDLE inquiry.
“The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating alleged election-law violations, and we have promised the Sheriff’s Office an expedited investigation,” said Keith Kameg, FDLE spokesman in Tallahassee.
Kameg also declined to comment further, including explaining why Bailey put the brakes on allowing Blair to prepare for his upcoming four-year term.
The FDLE probe is unrelated to an ongoing FDLE investigation into allegations of official misconduct by former undersheriff Dan Kuhn, according to Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway, who also declined to comment further on Bailey’s request or the alleged violations.
Blair, in an interview, said Dean notified him Wednesday morning about meeting for the transition and that the sheriff wanted to clear that with FDLE.
Dean then called back, he said, and mentioned that Bailey wanted the delay.
Blair said he first thought it was related to the Kuhn investigation, but later learned about alleged campaign violations.
“I guess it’s my campaign, but I don’t have any details about the complaint,” Blair said. “I have no idea. I’m as surprised as you are.”
“Nobody’s really touched base with me with any details,” Blair said after noting that FDLE investigators did not contact him directly. “I’m a little confused about it.”
Kuhn’s scandal-driven departure from the race in early October paved the way for Blair’s election on Tuesday.
Kuhn had beaten Blair in the August GOP primary, capturing 53 percent of the vote, yet later quit the race and his job after a former mistress, Melissa Cook, the former principal at Hale Academy, went public with details of an extramarital affair.
Marion County Republican leaders subsequently placed Blair back on the ballot as the new nominee.
Blair took 72 percent of the vote on Tuesday in defeating Constitution Party candidate Bernie DeCastro.
While no one will discuss the reason behind FDLE’s interest in the election, prosecutors earlier had looked into some irregularities involving Blair.
Investigators from the state attorney’s office combed his campaign bank account in response to complaints from Kuhn’s supporters.
According to Ridgway, Kuhn’s camp had griped that Blair had broken the law by passing bad checks and accepting contributions that exceeded the state’s $500 limit for individuals.
Prosecutors eventually reviewed those reports and subpoenaed Blair’s campaign bank records, Ridgway said.
It turned out, he added, that the two bad checks had been written to Blair’s campaign and not by Blair, thus making the candidate the “victim,” Ridgway said.
As for the supposedly illegal contributions, Ridgway said the review of the records showed they were “very minor and almost certainly inadvertent.”
For instance, it appeared that some of Blair’s contributors had made the maximum donation and then also bought a ticket to a fundraiser for a small amount.
Kuhn’s people dropped the issue after realizing the same violation might apply to them, Ridgway said.
Moreover, that allowed Blair to declare to the Marion County Republican Executive Committee on Oct. 10, the day the panel chose him to be Kuhn’s replacement, that his campaign finance reports were “in compliance.”
Contact Bill Thompson at 867-4117 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.