Funny Money in Manatee State Attorney Race

Manatee Republicans Ed Brodsky, Peter Lombardo vie for state attorney nomination in contentious campaign

By RICHARD DYMOND — Bradenton Herald

Published: August 4, 2012

MANATEE — As head of the public defender's office in the 12th Judicial Circuit, which includes Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties, Larry Eger is the man positioned opposite retiring state attorney Earl Moreland.

He says he has appreciation for the power that Moreland's position holds. And he notes the significance of the Aug. 14 battle between Ed Brodsky and Peter Lombardo to capture the Republican nomination for state attorney and face Democrat John Torraco in the Nov. 6 general election.

"It's the most important race involving the criminal justice system," Eger said recently. "The state attorney has tremendous discretion for what to charge someone with and what sanctions, and that is where they have unbelievable power."

Eger has endorsed Brodsky, who is the No. 2 man in Moreland's office, but Eger doesn't hesitate to let anyone know, especially Brodsky and Lombardo, that the local criminal justice system needs work.

Brodsky and Lombardo have both stressed in their campaigns that they want to incarcerate more gang members and all violent offenders.

Eger agrees that's important, but says that can't be the whole mission.

"We get on the campaign stump and talk about how we want to put away violent criminals," Eger said. "OK, that is done every day. But

what will you do beyond that? What are you going to do to reduce crime? What we are doing now is not really working and is costing us a fortune."

Lombardo, a private practice attorney who worked in the state attorney's office for Moreland from 1988 to 2006 and was felony division chief in Sarasota County from 1996 to 2006, said he is a hard-liner when it comes to crime, but is willing to take a look at some of Eger's suggestions, which call for partnerships between the police, prosecutors and social service providers to keep nonviolent inmates from being repeat offenders.

"I will not compromise as state attorney that violent career criminals need to go," Lombardo said Friday. "I will not compromise on that one inch.

"As far as nonviolent, nondrug dealing offenders, that is a fine plan for those people," Lombardo said, referring to intervention techniques.

Brodsky, who has worked in the state attorney's office for the past 20 years and now, as Moreland's chief assistant, manages four offices, said he is also a hard-liner on violent crime who is willing to consider new programs for chronic offenders and career criminals.

"I see both sides and I think both are important," Brodsky said Friday. "I was one of a 12-member local delegation that traveled to High Point, N.C., last month to look at that city's crime reduction strategy. It's about addressing and stopping street drug dealing."

Lombardo promises speedy trials for undocumented workers committing crimes with a priority for deporting those convicted. He also vowed, if elected, to prosecute more gang members using a local prosecutor rather than a statewide gang prosecutor, and to go after pill mills.

Lombardo said he would appoint special prosecutors to handle both white-collar crimes and crimes against the elderly, which the office does not have now.

Brodsky has stated he will continue to attack gangs in concert with a statewide prosecutor.

Brodsky is the only one of the three candidates running who is a board-certified criminal trial lawyer.

Lombardo said he would cut fiscal waste from the state attorney's office, contending there are a significant number of prosecutors on Moreland's payroll who "supervise supervisors" and don't handle caseloads, something he says will end. He contends this group earns a combined $1 million annually.

Brodsky is endorsed by Moreland; the sheriffs from Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties; the Police Benevolent Association, the Fraternal Order of Police; the Florida State Troopers Association; retired Manatee sheriff Charlie Wells and retired Palmetto police chief Gerry Lowe and the Manatee County Law Enforcement Council, which includes the current police chiefs of Bradenton, Palmetto and Holmes Beach.

Lombardo said he is endorsed by Tea Party Manatee and the Sarasota Tea Party.

"I have thousands of conservatives supporting my candidacy," Lombardo added.

The race gets contentious

The race turned tough in mid-July when Lombardo released a commercial discussing a case in which the state attorney's office declined to file charges against a subject who later killed a Bradenton man.

Brodsky believes multi-millionaire Gary Kompothecras, owner of Ask Gary, might have supported Lombardo's TV ads.

That's because Kompothecras came to the state attorney's office with allegations that a former employee had stolen trade secrets. Hillsborough County had previously declined to file charges in the case. Kompothecras wanted the 12th Circuit to file charges.

It was decided by the state attorney's office that no charges would be filed.

"I had been told by a number of individuals that if these criminal charges were not filed that Dr. Gary would be heavily funding my opponent," Brodsky said.

Brodsky said he and the state attorney's office will "not be bullied politically for prosecution that is unwarranted and unjustified."

Brodsky said when charges were not filed, Florida First, a political action committee based in Bradenton, received July 3 a $100,000 contribution from 17th Street Sarasota LLC, a Kompothecras-owned company.

Florida First has given money to Strategic Image Management, the Tampa political consulting firm handling Lombardo's campaign.

"He donated money to a political action committee, which paid for one of the TV commercials," Lombardo said Friday, speaking of Kompothecras.

"That is what I am told," Lombardo said when asked if it was true that Kompothecras had wanted charges filed in a case. "I don't know anything about the case or have I discussed it with Dr. Gary."

Lombardo had $1,000 in kind and raised less than $2,000 in the July 6 filing period.

In the July 27 report, Lombardo campaign figures had swelled, but part of that may have been because of a violation in campaign finance law.

Lombardo said Friday that he made an error when he reported contributions of more than $500 from corporations, which is against Florida election law.

The problem began July 27 when Lombardo reported a July 19 loan to his campaign for $51,100 from "the Lombardo home operating account."

Also on July 19, Lombardo's campaign listed a contribution of $1,150 from the "law office of Peter Lombardo."

On July 20, there was a report of $3,000 from the "law office of Peter Lombardo."

"Under Chapter 106 a corporation can only contribute $500 maximum," Brodsky said.

Brodsky said the Lombardo home is an assisted living facility.

"These are corporations," Brodsky said. "Lombardo Home is a corporation and law office of Peter Lombardo is a corporation. Division of Elections clearly states you cannot take in more than $500 from corporations."

In another apparent irregularity, Lombardo also listed in his campaign contribution report that he paid Strategic Image Management $53,000 on July 17, two days before he reported $51,100 entering into his account.

At the time Lombardo reported he wrote the check for $53,000, his campaign account held approximately $1,000, Brodsky said.

Also, Lombardo claims on his campaign signs and during his stumping that, during his tenure as a prosecutor in the state attorney's office, he had a 100 percent record of convictions in sex offense cases.

But according to Sarasota County Clerk of Court records, on April 10, 1997, a judgment of acquittal was granted by Sarasota Judge Harry Rapkin in the case of Luke Richard Petruschke, who was charged with fondling a child under 16 years of age in a lewd, lascivious or indecent manner.

Lombardo is listed in court documents as the prosecutor in that case.

Petruschke was convicted since then of a lewd act on a 3-year-old in Broward County in 2007 and is serving life in Florida's Department of Corrections, according to the Department of Corrections website.

Lombardo said he can make that claim because the Petruschke case wasn't a verdict.

"I am talking about a 100 percent rate on cases going to verdict," Lombardo said Friday. "The judge dismissed it before it went to a jury. I did my job. The judge threw the case out over my strenuous objection."

Brodsky dismissed that contention.

"To say a case doesn't count because it was taken away before it goes to jury is ridiculous," Brodsky said. "This is extremely misleading."

Also, according to official records on the Manatee County Clerk of Court website, Lombardo's home is currently in foreclosure.

The foreclosure began roughly two years ago and is still an open case, according to court records.

"We are refinancing," Lombardo said

 

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