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Did DeSantis-endorsed Rick Nolte cheat with James Dunn; or is he just an accidental felon?
State's Attorney Brian Haas is doing his job by prosecuting arch-criminal Dunn for a campaign misdemeanor. Why won't he and Grady Judd investigate the Nolte-Dunn connection?
Did Polk County School Board Member Rick Nolte, endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, accidentally commit a 2020 campaign felony through gross criminal negligence? Or did he engage willfully in a larger criminal scheme to cheat in the 2020 election?
Those are the questions a functioning State’s Attorney’s Office would ask itself as it considers whether and how to prosecute Nolte criminally for the felony he just admitted to in a civil consent order with the Florida Elections Commission.
It’s absurd to separate the Nolte and Dunn cases
The key to answering those questions is James Dunn, the Texas-based, convicted-felon, arch-criminal campaign manager brought to Florida by the
CCDF CDF (Polk’s version of Moms for Liberty) to run the 2020 School Board campaigns for its slate of candidates — which was Nolte, Jill Sessions, and Terry Clark.
Sessions and Clark both lost, in part because of their open association with Dunn, a cartoonishly malevolent lifetime criminal and grifter. Dunn managed to embed himself into the highest levels of Texas GOP political power before crashing and burning in Florida. See this article for a good overview.
The James Dunn files: Why is Texas' GOP education elite so deeply entangled with an outlandishly anti-social convicted felon?
Rick Nolte narrowly won his race. He claimed not to have used Dunn; so Dunn did not become a campaign-killing open issue in Nolte’s race. Using Dunn without admitting it would be a criminal form of cheating.
Nolte claimed no association with Dunn despite the fact that Terry Clark told his supporters in a campaign email that Nolte was using Dunn like the rest of the slate; despite the fact that Nolte took part in campaign events organized and promoted by Dunn; and despite the fact that several vague, strange campaign expenditures reported by Nolte add up to the $7,500 fee that Dunn charged Sessions and Clark. One of those included $2,718.67 for “shirts” paid to Kansas City company that doesn’t sell shirts.
Polk County’s 10th Circuit State’s Attorney’s Office is currently prosecuting James Dunn on misdemeanor charges related to illegal, slanderous campaign texts he’s accused of sending to attack School Board Member Lisa Miller in the 2020 election.
By contrast, from the moment Rick Nolte’s self-declared $5,200 felony cash contribution to himself was discovered and publicly reported, State Attorney Brian Haas and Sheriff Grady Judd actively ignored it. And, to my knowledge, they’ve made no effort at all to verify that Nolte is telling the truth about Dunn.
The only possible explanation for Nolte’s criminal impunity in Polk County is fear of crossing Ron DeSantis, who endorsed Nolte.
Neither the FEC, the SAO, or the Sheriff’s Office wants to know if Nolte cheated by using Dunn while hiding it.
Because Brian Haas and Grady Judd refused to do their jobs in investigating Nolte, I did it for them.
This article I wrote about a year ago lays out the case for suspecting Nolte wasn’t being truthful about Dunn or his campaign expenditures — several of which Nolte later “corrected” in ways that were incomprehensible.
Dear Election Police: make Rick Nolte account for $7,567.39 of "shirt," "sign," and "marketing" campaign spending
I then submitted my conclusions and/or observations to the Florida Elections Commission.
My formal complaints about Nolte to the FEC broke down into two grift streams — 1) The unambiguous $5,200 cash loan/contribution Nolte reported giving himself on his campaign finance documents. 2) Nolte’s connections to Dunn and the “shirts” type shady contributions that just happen to add up to $7,500, the same amount as Dunn’s fee.
It took roughly a year, but the FEC and Nolte have jointly stipulated that Nolte committed and openly reported a campaign felony. By contrast, the FEC tossed out the Dunn-connected complaints quickly, back on January 6th, 2023, without doing any actual investigation.
Grady/Brian: deputize me or do your job
FEC Executive Director Tim Vaccaro wrote me a letter saying he and Nolte discussed the shady expenditures that Nolte later “corrected” incomprehensibly. Vaccaro said he took Nolte’s word at face value that they were “de minimis” errors of transparency only.
There is no indication Vaccaro asked Nolte to provide any receipts or account in any way for the campaign merchandise that Nolte supposedly purchased. Vaccaro also dismissed Terry Clark’s email about Nolte and Dunn as “speculation and hearsay.”
And here’s the thing: Vaccaro may not have been wrong. My reading of the FEC statute suggests the commission is more tribunal than investigator. In this case, the FEC needs law enforcement to actually do its job and investigate, as it has done in the Dunn misdemeanor case.
I don’t have subpoena power; and I doubt Brian and Grady want to deputize me. So investigation is up to them.
Prosecutor Brad Copley and SAO investigator David Lopez have admirably moved heaven and earth to nail Dunn on criminal misdemeanor text mislabeling. But investigating if Nolte’s felony connects to Dunn in a much worse way is apparently off-limits. That’s pathetic.
I mean, if the point is to protect Ron DeSantis from embarrassment, Brian and Grady, don’t you want to clear Nolte on the Dunn stuff so that it no longer hangs in the air like a smelly dark cloud of gross?
Nolte’s a witness in the Dunn case; he should be a suspect in his own case
And what of Nolte himself?
I assure you, if I were Rick Nolte, I would long ago have published my receipts for merchandise and verified to anyone who would listen that I did not both commit a felony and conspire with James Dunn to cheat. Nolte’s silence and defendant-like behavior, while continuing to hold public office, is extremely damning for everyone involved.
To look at this …
And this …
And the weird, unverified, “corrected” expenditures that add up to $7,500 …
And go … well, Nolte says he didn’t use Dunn. No reason to doubt the guy; it’s not like he openly committed a felony. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Is … well … insert your own word.
Seriously, Nolte, who supposedly didn’t do anything with Dunn, is on the witness list in Dunn’s case.
What was Nolte’s intent? Only the SAO/Sheriff can tell us
Intent bears powerfully on the nature of punishment for crime.
Nolte, thus far, has quietly implied that he’s just a big dummy who accidentally committed a felony because he was too lazy or indifferent to read and follow the rules. That’s the best case for him. In that case, I would not consider him a felon — and I wouldn’t suggest punishing him like one.
However, if the felony was either part of a scheme to defraud the public — or even just adjacent to a larger scheme to defraud the public with Dunn — the punishment equation changes dramatically.
If Nolte, a sitting School Board member endorsed by Ron DeSantis, can’t be bothered to clear himself and account for his weird spending, law enforcement needs to force him to do that. Brian and Grady need to get over their abject and shameless fear, let Lopez and Copley investigate the Dunn/Nolte connection, and start serving the public again — not the tiny collapsing dictator.