State attorney race well past the point of political politeness

 By Jeremy Wallace,

Herald-Tribune / Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Campaigns for the State Attorney’s Office are typically low-profile, almost cordial contests that rarely produce much excitement. Not this year.

Murder, near-extortion and political revenge have all been raised as issues in the Republican state attorney primary battle between Ed Brodsky and Peter Lombardo. Instead of flying under the radar, the contest leading to the Aug. 14 vote has become one of the region’s nastiest.

"I never imagined this race was going to get to this level," Brodsky said of the 12th Judicial Circuit race, which includes Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

Lombardo, a Bradenton attorney, touched off the latest firestorm by launching new television ads and a website that accuse Brodsky, current chief assistant state attorney, of being responsible for a Manatee County man’s murder in 2007 because his office didn’t do more to keep one of the eventual assailants, who had a criminal record, off the streets.

Brodsky calls the ads "outrageous" and says they are being funded spitefully by one of his own former campaign backers, Gary Kompothecras, a Siesta Key resident and founder of the medical referral business 1-800-ASK-GARY.

Kompothecras, one of the most powerful political donors in Florida, is seeking revenge, Brodsky contends, for the prosecutor’s decision not to pursue a case against a former Kompethcras employee for alleged trade-secret thefts at his businesses.

In an interview on Tuesday, current State Attorney Earl Moreland, who is retiring after 24 years, blasted Kompothecras for "trying to buy the state attorney’s office."

Moreland, who is backing Brodsky to succeed him, said Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight warned him that Kompothecras would aggressively help Lombardo if his staff did not prosecute the former employee.

But Brodsky and Moreland said that they declined to prosecute because there wasn’t enough evidence of a crime.

"My office will not be bullied politically for a prosecution that is unwarranted and unjustified," Brodsky said.

Kompothecras was out of the country and could not be reached for comment. Greg Zitani, Kompothecras’ attorney, said that he could not comment on the issue.

Knight, who considers himself a friend of Kompothecras but is backing Brodsky in the coming election, said he talked to Moreland and told him that Kompothecras was very upset. But he said he was not delivering a threat for Kompothecras.

Knight said Kompothecras first talked to him about the matter involving the former employee, but he chose not to make any arrest or file any charges.

Heightening the political intrigue is the fact that influential Republicans who previously lauded Kompothecras for using his considerable wealth to help them win elections are now crying foul for his spending against their chosen candidate.

In 2008, Kompothecras was a major player in the campaign to defeat incumbent property appraiser Jim Todora.

Kompothecras used more than a dozen of his businesses to donate to the eventual winner, Republican Bill Furst, exceeding what campaign finance limits would have allowed him to donate individually.

Brodsky was considered the primary front-runner because of his extensive support from key Republicans. Besides Moreland, Knight, and former Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells, big regional GOP donors Pat Neal, Carlos Beruff and Jesse Biter all backed him.

Anthony Pedicini, a political consultant working for Lombardo, said the reaction to Kompothecras’ involvement is misplaced. He said the ads were paid for by Lombardo’s campaign — not Kompothecras, a point he said financial disclosure reports due next month will confirm.

Campaign finance records released this week show Brodsky had raised $91,764 for the race compared with $29,743 for Lombardo.

Pedicini said Brodsky and Moreland are trying to distract people from the substance of the television commercials.

The new ads feature Roberta Ramsey, whose husband, Daniel, was killed in his County driveway in 2007.

Lombardo’s campaign says one of the assailants, Michael Leon Walker, should have been jailed a year earlier for a robbery of a pizza delivery man, but Brodsky’s office botched the case.

The State Attorney’s Office could not find the victim and dropped the robbery charges against Walker.

"Ed Brodsky was responsible for my husband’s death," Roberta Ramsey says in the ads airing on area stations.

Brodsky called the ads a low blow.

"It is outrageous and fails to tell all the facts," Brodsky said. "They are exploiting this woman."

Lombardo did not return phone calls from the Herald-Tribune seeking comment.

800-ask-gary, askgary, earl moreland, ed brodsky, gary kompothecras, Peter Lombardo, political candidate, state attorney race

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