State Attorney's Office vindicates candidates in Waverly Media campaign probe

County Council candidate Justin Kennedy: Incumbent Deb Denys & others on dais conducted duplicate witchhunt investigation in desperate attempt to hold onto seats

DAYTONA BEACH -- The State Attorney's Office exonerated all candidates who received in-kind advertising in the 2012 election cycle from Waverly Media of committing any crimes and officially closed the investigation Tuesday.

"During the investigation, substantial resources were committed by the State Attorney’s Office to look into allegations of misconduct linked to those elections," State Attorney R.J. Larizza said in a prepared statement iemailed to Headline Surfer® and other Central Florida media outlets.

Larizza said he assigned two prosecutors from his office interviewed 65 individuals and generated and reviewed tens of thousands of documents. These prosecutors worked full time with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office during the lengthy investigation.

"The investigation did not reveal any knowing acceptance of unlawful contributions by candidates or their treasurers, or any wrongful official conduct taken by a candidate as a result of real or imagined contributions," Larizza said.

"In fact, efforts made by candidates and political parties to lawfully comply with the election law reporting requirements contributed to the uncovering and revealing of the unlawful conduct perpetrated by Waverly Media," the state attorney emphasized.

Larizza added, There was no compelling evidence produced during the investigation to suggest intentional unlawful violations of the election laws or quid pro quo actions taken by candidates during the 2012 election cycle in complicity with Waverly Media. The State Attorney’s Office has concluded its investigation into the candidates in connection with Waverly and the 2012 election cycle."

The only person implicated from Waverly Media by the State Attorney's Office lst year in the early stages of the criminal probe was Jim Brown, a former manager, who was fired from the Port Orange-based LLC, which is managed by Kimberly Was with Jimmy Sotolongo and Ramara Garrett as principals in the venture.

Sotolongo and Garrett, who live together went on trial, along with a third co-defendant, Stephanie Musselwhite in a mortgage fraud scheme in federal court in Orlando earlier this year in other holdings, including the former Waverly Real Estate run by Garrett, but a jury found her not guilty.

Sotolongo and Musselwhite were found guilty of mortgage fraud charges related to seven coastal properties in Volusia County worth just under $13 million and will be in court today on a pre-sentence hearing that could delay their Sept. 12 sentencing hearings or lead to a new trial.

Brown, who has since died, was sentenced to five years of probation for pleading no contest in a plea brgain with the State Attorney's Office for his role in fraudulently setting up advertising accounts on bus benches in the names of certain candidates in the 2012 election cycle, mostly Democrats like at-large County Councilwoman Joyce Cusack of of DeLand, dis. 2 Councilman Joshua Wagner and Andy Kelly, the district 1 councilman who gave up his seat to run for county council.

The State Attorney's Office got involved when Supervisor of Elections Anne McFall, who won re-election outright in the 2012 primary over Kelly and two other challengers, received an anonymous complaint about Waverly and took her concerns to County Attorney Dan Eckert, who recommended she go to the State Attorney's Office.

That led to a rebuke by County Councilman Doug Daniels, himself a Waverly Media recipient and registered Democrat, who accepted $250 in an in-kind contribution from Garrett -- not for a bus bench ad -- but in the form of wine and spirits for a fundraiser he was holding for his own 201 elction campaign against challenger Shannon McLeish.

Daniels subsequently had Eckert censored beceause technically he reports to the County Council and insisted he and his colleagues needed to conduct their own investigation to "lance the boil" of corruption. He was joined by three others who were adamant as well in Dis. 3's Denys, of New Smyrna Beach and dis. 1 Councilwoman Pat Pat Patterson of DeLand, both of whom won election in 2012 and term-limited dis. 5 Councilwoman Pat Northey.

Daniels pushed for the hiring of an outside investigator to report to subpoena witnesses and write a report. He recommended former law partner Jonathan Kaney, Jr., for the job. The council then voted 6-1 to hire Kaney, with at-large Councilwoman Cusack and dis. 2's Wagner feeling it was a witchhunt. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.