Grand jury makes presentment to judge
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 7:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 7:11 p.m.
OCALA — A Marion County grand jury apparently reviewing whether Sheriff Chris Blair violated campaign finance laws has come out with a presentment on the matter.
The presentment, which is a written report of the grand jury's findings, is sealed for 15 days, however, so it is unclear whether jurors found any criminal conduct on Blair's part during his campaign last fall.
In fact, grand jurors, prosecutors and grand jury witnesses who testified Wednesday would not even confirm that Blair was the subject of the presentment. But the fact that Blair himself was called to testify, and that the grand jury deliberations were led by 8th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Cervone, who investigated the allegations against Blair, strongly suggests it is.
Also testifying was an agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who initially investigated the claim against Blair.
Cervone declined to talk about the grand jury's session Wednesday.
The allegation against Blair dates back to October, when an anonymous tipster accused him of violating campaign finance laws. The exact details of the allegation have not been disclosed by investigators assigned to look into the matter.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the claim, then handed its findings to Cervone for review.
Cervone has stayed silent about the FDLE's investigation but was believed to be asking the grand jury to review the findings Wednesday.
Throughout the day, a number of sheriff's officials close to Blair spoke to the grand jury. Chief Deputy Fred LaTorre, who is second in command at the Sheriff's Office and was a key figure in Blair's campaign, was in the grand jury room for 15 to 20 minutes. When he emerged, he said only that he had been directed to not speak about what transpired.
Also visiting with the grand jury was Don Maines, a Blair campaign supporter who was named to head the sheriff's new Professional Compliance Bureau after Blair was elected.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Mike Stephenson, who was assigned to investigate the allegations against Blair, also testified before Blair himself spent an hour with the panel.
A local legal expert who asked to remain anonymous said a grand jury presentment can take several forms.
A presentment can be a series of recommendations designed to address a problem and offer a solution. It can also explain why a grand jury exonerated someone accused of a crime, although that is rare. Finally, it can explain why a grand jury decided to indict someone for a crime or recommend criminal charges be filed.
Cervone would not say whether indictments are forthcoming against Blair or anyone else who spoke before the grand jury Wednesday.
LaTorre was contacted after the grand jury adjourned Wednesday and declined comment. So did Maines. Blair said only that Cervone was working with Blair's attorney, but would not elaborate.
According to the local legal expert, presentments are sealed for 15 days to give those named in the document an opportunity to fight its release to the public. While they cannot challenge the grand jury's factual findings, someone named in a presentment can argue that the panel overstepped its legal authority.
If the grand jury did indict someone, it would be up to the state attorney to obtain warrants for that person's arrest. In the case of a public official, the state attorney typically makes arrangements for the indicted person to turn himself over for arrest.
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