- October 31, 2022
After investigating claims that Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh "misused her public position; was guilty of official misconduct; and misused confidential information," the Manatee County Sheriff's Office issued a report Monday saying none of Baugh's actions connected to a special vaccination clinic in Lakewood Ranch in February rose to the level of a crime.
"From the point we received this complaint, our goal was to conduct a very thorough investigation," Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said in a release. "We spent countless hours on this, focusing not only on the statutes mentioned in the complaint, but also examining whether other laws were possibly broken. Nothing criminal was found.”
The complaint was filed Feb. 23, 2021 by Michael Barfield, a Sarasota-based paralegal consultant who is the board president for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The claims were related to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution at Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch in February.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office release stated, "After nearly four months, numerous interviews and a review of hundreds of documents, investigators concluded that none of Baugh’s actions rose to the level of a crime."
Baugh was relieved at the news.
"I am thankful the Sheriff's Office concluded what it did," Baugh said. "There was no criminal intent. My concern was to get shots in people's arms."
The 113-page report was forwarded to the Florida Commission on Ethics, per its request. The Sheriff's Office stated in the release that "no other comments will be made in reference to this investigation at this time due to the ongoing ethics investigation by FDLE."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had contacted Schroeder-Manatee Ranch CEO and President Rex Jensen in February in an attempt to facilitate the distribution of 3,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, above Manatee County's normal allotment. Jensen went to Baugh, who eventually worked out the distribution at Premier Sports Campus. The vaccinations were available to only those in the 34202 and 34211 Zip Codes.
The release stated that "Baugh provided (Manatee County Director of Public Safety) Jacob Saur with a list containing five names (Rex Jensen Lawrence Jensen, Robert Keehn, Marie Keehn and Vanessa Baugh" of people earmarked to receive the vaccine apart from the lottery pool.
Barfield alleged Baugh's actions were in violation of Florida statutes.
In conclusion, the Manatee Sheriff's Office stated, "Although evidence obtained through the course of this investigation clearly indicates Commissioner Baugh, a public servant, knowingly and intentionally attempted to obtain a benefit for herself and others, there is no evidence to suggest she falsified or caused any other person to falsify any official records or documents. Additionally, while it appears she did not readily make it known to her fellow commissioners, there is no evidence to suggest that, in regard to the Premier Sports Campus vaccination event, Baugh concealed, covered up, destroyed, mutilated, or altered any official records or documents. (By having a new registrant pool created) Baugh did not alter the original pool. Finally, no underlying felony exists to substantiate the indictment of official misconduct. Rex Jensen, Marie Keehn, Robert Keehn and Baugh herself all purported to have neither given nor received anything of value in return for being placed on the 'VIP' list to receive the vaccine, and nothing of evidentiary value has been discovered to suggest otherwise."
The report went on to say, "This investigation has uncovered no evidence demonstrative of Baugh receiving any tangible benefit, pecuniary or otherwise."