Stephen Sather counted on longtime friends -- Mayor Adam Barringer & Commissioner Judy Reiker -- for planning board post despite drug past
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Back in 2009, political insider Stephen Sather ran for city commissioner against incumbent Jack Grasty, a combat-injured Vietnam veteran; and a third candidate with a squeaky-clean image in retired Maryland cop Palmer Wilson.
And here was Sather, daring to run for the municipal post while hiding an ugly secret going back 17 years that few knew about outside of close political friends like Adam Barringer and Judy Reiker and her husband, Guy Mariande, because he had stayed out of the limelight.
In 1992, Sather, an impish figure desperate to buy a large enough quantity of cocaine to get a cut of profits with some street pushers and even skim some of the white powder off the top to feed his own unquenched habit, was way in over his head.
As bad luck would have it, the seller even more unsavory in demeanor and looks than even Sather himself, turned out to be an undercover New Smyrna Beach cop who had been working with the feds in Orlando.
Sather was cuffed and hauled off to the Volusia County Branch Jail. He was charged with attempted purchase of cocaine with intent to distribute.
Because it was his first offense, Sather pleaded no contest in open court and was given home confinement followed by probation. And because sentencing guidelines drug offenders like Sather caught for the first time were far more lenient back then, his "full cooperation" resulted in adjudication of guilt being withheld.
Fast forward to the 2009 elections, and Headline Surfer® was directed to an item alluding to Sather's drug past in a weekly political blog site, the NSB Shadow, operated by Nahum Litt, a retired federal judge.
Headline Surfer® did an exhaustive public records search in tracking down the file and spoke with the feds as well as an unhappy Sather himself for a story published Sept. 8, 2009, and headlined: NSB Zone 2 commission candidate Steve Sather on his no contest plea in cocaine arrest: 'I made a mistake 17 years ago.'
Sather, then 58, was forced to come to grips with his past all over again in a very public way when so few people knew.
"I made a mistake 17 years ago," Sather told the internet newspaper, angry and defiant in trying to beg off the story hitting the online search engines and news directories.
Sather continued, "My family already knows. Everybody knows. This is not news. I had a lot of stuff going on... I got involved in the party scene."
Asked how much the amount and street value of the narcotics, Sather confirmed what Headline Surfer® had gathered from its contacts with the U.S. Attorney's Office and DEA: "It was an ounce, worth about two grand. It was a three-year investigation into drugs in New Smyrna Beach and I was nailed in an undercover bust."
Sather's file is sealed because of the withhold of adjudication by Circuit Judge R. Michael Hutcheson, who accepted his negotiated plea with the state on Nov. 6, 1992. By pleading no contest, a defendant neither admits or denies guilt, but concedes the state has enough evidence to result in a guilty verdict at trial.
The New Smyrna Beach cop's charging affidavit is sealed in the court record (partly because of what was learned from the defendant) though Sather's no contest plea to "unlawful sale or delivery of a controlled substance (cocaine), a lesser included offense, is part of the public record.
Sather was sentenced to two years of community control, followed by two years of probation. Sather's community control ended on Oct. 25, 1993, and his probation began at that point, and on Nov. 18, 1994, his probation was ended and his record subsequently sealed. Because of the successful completion of the plea, Sather had his rights restored, mainly voting and running for office.
Sather participated in a public candidate debate sponsored and moderated by Headline Surfer®, which was before the story broke, Nonetheless, with the internet newspaper's visibility online, Sather's seedy past had finally caught up with him in a very public way.
And while Sather groused that the publicity was hurting his family, Wilson, a retired lieutenant with the Montgomery County police, who moved here half a decade before the 2009 election, said if Sather were so concerned with sparing his family the embarrassment, he shouldn't have campaigned in the first place.
"When you run, you can't hide something like this," Wilson said prior to the primary. "If the media finds out about it, it's going to be that much more magnified."
Asked for comment on Sather's legal troubles in the past, Grasty said prior to the primary he was aware of the situation and wasn't surprised it got out.
"All I'm going to say is (his) record speaks for itself," Grasty said.
Neither Grasty nor Sather returned calls for comment. Barringer and Reiker didn't respond to messages either.
Grasty takes primary outright; Sather distant third
Sather actually breathed a sigh of relief that a public candidate debate for the three municipal races that election cycle occurred before the news of Sather's past, but within a few days it was the talk of Southeast Volusia and Grasty won decisively with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Wilson finished second with a little more than 23 percent. Sather finished dead last with less than 18 percent.
Sather was given a seat on the planning board two years ago by the City Commission with Barringer,Reiker and even Grasty supporting him.