Former State Attorney Jerry Hill punished election crime in real time; Brian Haas has dinner with it.
Current State Attorney Brian Haas' celebration of CCDF cranks and his inaction on criminal campaign texts and Rick Nolte's self-declared felony break pathetically with Jerry Hill's forceful precedent.
Former Polk State Attorney Jerry Hill did not laugh it up at a public political dinner with Christine Trakas Thornhill after he learned of her misdemeanor campaign finance crimes in 2014.
Instead, he held her to account — quickly, publicly, and legally — in the middle of her race.
In just a matter of days during that 2014 campaign, Hill:
Publicly announced an investigation into Thornhill, which caused her to drop out of a race she was likely to win just a few weeks before the election.
Reached a plea agreement that barred her from running for office for 12 years in exchange for avoiding prosecution.
In doing so, Hill provided a clear precedent for how current State Attorney Brian Haas and Polk Sheriff Grady Judd should have already behaved in response to the rampant criminality that has defined the 2022 Polk County School Board races.
Unfortunately, they have not followed Jerry Hill’s example.
Indeed, as the picture shows above, Brian Haas spent Wednesday night celebrating politically with Nolte, Sessions, and the rest of the crime-confessing, criminal-hiring, criminal-past celebrating elements of the CCDF.
He attended the so-called “Patriot Dinner” hosted by the Capitol Lynch Mob-loving crank wing of the Polk GOP. It should have been called the “Criminal Celebration Dinner.” Sources tell me CCDF’s chief grifter, Steve Maxwell, played a leading emcee role and Jill Sessions — she of the convicted criminal, church-cheating, 6 PPP loan collecting campaign manager — gave a speech. (I’m told Maxwell also name-dropped me in an unintentionally flattering way. At least they know somebody is scrutinizing them.)
I hope Haas enjoyed all of it.
But anyone else paying attention should conclude that election crime is rewarded and encouraged by official law enforcement power in Polk County. I expect much more lawlessness thanks to the behavior of Haas and Polk Sheriff Grady Judd in this cycle.
But at least Grady and would-be guest of honor Casey DeSantis had the good sense to bail on “T.I.T.S.” Nolte and his friends at the “Criminal Celebration Dinner,” according to a source account from the dinner. I have no idea what Haas was thinking. Maybe he just likes hanging out with them, rather than protecting decent people from the CCDF’s love of criminality.
Jerry Hill and Brian Haas: a study in contrasts of public leadership
Judd and Haas should have forcefully and publicly stood for the rule of law in June when School Board Member Lisa Miller and her husband Bob became election crime victims of illegal text messages.
Judd and Haas both knew full well that Miller’s opponent, Jill Sessions, had hired James Dunn — a church-cheating convicted felon with 6 PPP loans, who specializes in campaign texts, to run her campaign.
But Judd and Haas announced no investigation and offered no condemnation. Much later, Judd issued a half-hearted murmur of disapproval of Sessions “decision-making ability.”
Haas did and said nothing publicly.
Later, in August, Judd and Haas should have forcefully and publicly stood for the rule of law when I pointed out to them that School Board Member-elect Rick Nolte self-reported a campaign finance felony and a bunch of misdemeanors.
But they didn’t.
Again, no public statement and or any signs of an investigation.
Jerry Hill used his legal power to end Christine Thornhill within days once "the word was kind of out there”
Now, let’s look now at how Hill announced the investigation of Thornhill in 2014. Key excerpt:
State Attorney Jerry Hill said his office is investigating a complaint it received.
"We, in fact, are looking into some possible irregularities in the campaign," he said. "We are in discussions with her attorney, Gary Trombley of Tampa." Hill declined to describe what potential violations his office was looking into.
Just the announcement itself forced Thornhill to resign from her race just weeks before an election she was likely to win. Hill said he launched the investigation into Thornhill because "the word was kind of out there" about her misdemeanor campaign shenanigans with her parents. That’s all it took for Jerry Hill to do his job and go public. And he had a plea deal within days.
Official prosecutorial action came just a few days later — for a misdemeanor. Headline: “Winter Haven Lawyer Christine Thornhill Accepts Deal, Avoids Prosecution.” Key excerpt:
LAKELAND | The State Attorney's Office on Wednesday agreed not to prosecute a Winter Haven lawyer charged with falsely reporting campaign contributions in her run for circuit judge.
Christine Trakas Thornhill was charged Wednesday with false reporting of campaign contributions in her race for a 10th Judicial Circuit position. But the same day, State Attorney Jerry Hill dropped the charge, a first-degree misdemeanor, after Thornhill agreed to a series of pre-trial stipulations, including paying back improper contributors and not running for office for 12 years.
Thornhill, 39, had agreed last week to withdraw from the race for the seat as another condition of the charges being dropped.
"But as I mentioned back then, we continued our investigation into the case," Hill said. "We served her with the summons today (Wednesday) instead of issuing an arrest order, and she immediately came in with her attorney and agreed to the pre-trial stipulations."
Is it “being looked at right now,” Brian?
Both the 2022 criminal texts and Nolte’s campaign shenanigans have been reported on extensively from multiple sources — not just me.
Moreover, I have filed formal complaints with the Florida Elections Commission about Nolte’s:
10 misdemeanor cash donations he already confessed to in writing.
$5,200 cash loan or contribution — it’s kinda unclear which. Either is a felony.
$2700 purchase of shirts from a company that doesn’t sell shirts.
That last one, if Nolte did not buy shirts from the company that doesn’t sell shirts, would be a false campaign filing, which appears to be the same statute that Hill used against Thornhill.
I have sent emails and texts to the Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office, alerting them to my formal complaints. And at least one prosecutor subscribes to my site.
And yet, the deafening public silence and plodding response — if there’s a response at all — from Judd and Haas are striking. (I should note that Haas and the SAO did respond promptly when I reported concerns that someone was casing my house during the summer. I appreciated that. Thankfully, the incident was just a coincidence and nothing threatening.)
When asked about the $5,200 cash donation, Nolte declined to answer.
“I’m not going to answer this because I was told not to,” Nolte said, although he would not say who advised him. “Since it’s being looked at right now I can’t really talk.”
Who told him that? And what does “it’s being looked at right now” mean? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Does it mean a formal investigation — or nothing?
When I look at that picture, I certainly lean toward suspecting “nothing.”
But unlike Jerry Hill, Brian Haas isn’t talking, except to say how happy he was for his daughter to join him at the CCDF/GOP “Criminal Celebration Dinner.”
Rick Nolte has already publicly confessed in writing to 10 misdemeanors. In doing so, he said, in writing, “I did not realize that the cash maximum contribution to my campaign was $50 cash per person. I thought it was $100.”
Let’s repeat: Nolte “thought it was $100;” so when he reported committing a felony with himself with his $5200 cash loan/contribution, by his own words, he knew he was breaking the law because $5,200 is more than $100. Is there any other way to read it?
And yet … nothing is happening, except a state attorney appearance at a CCDF “Criminal Celebration Dinner” with Nolte and Sessions — and a Facebook post publicizing it.
Again, crime pays. And we’re left with no recourse but to beg public officials to do their damn jobs like their predecessors did.
Well, I don’t beg. I just note reality as I observe it.
In Brian Haas and Grady Judd’s county, the only criminals anymore are libs and books. You can do whatever you want if you’re a GOP crank. Haas will still come to your shindig and post about it happily with his daughter.
Message received, Brian.
We law-abiding, public-minded citizens seem completely on our own these days — with no powerful law enforcement people to have dinner with, much less actually do their jobs and protect us from vile criminal grifting.
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