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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 8 years ago

Sheriff exonerated on election charges

by: Robin Roy City Editor

After a nine-month investigation, the Florida Elections Commission cleared Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight of any wrongdoing in the November 2008 election.

A supporter of Knight’s opponent, David Gustafson, had filed a complaint that claimed 40 of the sheriff’s 755 campaign contributions were questionable.

James Hawkins, a pastor at First Church of God, alleged, among other things, that some of the contributions came from companies that were not registered with the state and from bank accounts that were closed.

The elections commission found that many of the businesses that Hawkins said were not state registered were registered with the Sarasota County Tax Collector. And bank accounts that were closed were open at the time the checks were written.

The commission found no probable cause that Knight violated state statutes.

“I had hired a professional accountant with campaign experience to make sure all rules were followed,” said Knight. “So I wasn’t worried.”

But Knight said two things about the investigation bothered him.
“My mother had to read about the investigation in the newspaper,” he said. “She comes from an era that believes what’s in a newspaper is gospel.”

Knight’s other complaint was about the cost of the investigation.

“I get frustrated,” he said. “With the fiscal crunch the state is in, how much money was spent on government employees looking into this?”

The elections commission does not record investigation costs.

Knight should there should be consequences for false allegations.

“There have to be regulations to make sure there is compliance with campaign law,” Knight said. “But there should be consequences for people who file bogus claims.”

Hawkins plans to file an appeal.

“The only evidence (the commission) considered is what (Knight’s) attorney presented,” he said.

Although he supported Gustafson in the election, Hawkins said that’s not the reason he filed the complaint.

“I’m trying to eliminate illegal (campaign) contributions,” he said. “It’s got nothing to do with the sheriff. I don’t think he’s a bad fellow.”

Hawkins said after his appeal on the Knight case is heard, he may file a claim against Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent.

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