POINCIANA – A candidate for the Osceola County Board of Commissioners is asking Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate why the office of State Attorney Lawson Lamar failed to move forward with an assault complaint that he had filed against Osceola County Commissioner Brandon Arrington.
“I’ve contacted the governor’s office for a special prosecutor,” said Tony Ferentinos, who is running as a Republican for the commission seat now held by Arrington, a Democrat. “I’m waiting for an answer to that. I’ve also taken it to the political corruption unit at the FBI. It’s who you know in Osceola County.”
Ferentinos said he and a lot of others in Osceola County have been angry since being contacted by Lamar’s office on Thursday, when they were told that office would not be moving forward with the prosecution of the incumbent.
In an email sent to Freeline Media, Arrington said the State Attorney’s decision should end this matter.
“I am delighted but not surprised that my name has been cleared and now the attention can be focused on the needs of our community, not on political theater,” Arrington wrote.
Arrington said he did not want to comment further on the incident that Ferentinos is alleging to have happened.
“I’ll let that statement speak for itself,” Arrington said.
Ferentinos had filed the assault complaint against Arrington last month, after what he said was a shoving incident at a public meeting. The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office had forwarded the complaint to the State Attorney’s office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties, Lamar’s jurisdiction.
Ferentinos said all he got back was an email message from Randy Means, director of investigations for the Office of State Attorney, which read:
“We have reviewed the Osceola County Sheriff’s investigation (received on February 21, 2012) into Anthony Ferentinos’ allegations against Brandon Arrington regarding a confrontation between two candidates running for the same elected office in Osceola County. After a review of the case and conversations with the investigative agency, it was deemed that no further state action is warranted. The benefit of further prosecution in this case is outweighed by the financial and social costs to the citizens of Osceola County. The individuals involved in this encounter are free to seek a remedy in the civil courts if they believe that is warranted.”
Since that email came out, Ferentinos said, he’s heard from plenty of Osceola County residents – including many he doesn’t know – who were stunned by that decision.
“They’re disgusted because there’s no due process, there’s no fairness, there’s no equality in the law,” Ferentinos said. “If you don’t know somebody, you go to jail.”
He cited the case of Doug Guetzloe, the conservative political activist who, like Ferentinos, is a member of the grassroots organization Axe The Tax, which opposes tax hike proposals that are placed on the ballot. They successfully lobbied against a sales tax hike referendum that was on the ballot in Osceola County in November 2010, to finance road improvement projects. It lost by a 70-30 percent margin.
Guetzloe spent nearly 60 days in the Orange County jail last summer, after he had pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of not properly identifying a flyer as a paid political ad. He was prosecuted for that by Lamar’s office.
“Why did Doug Guetzloe spent time in jail for a misdemeanor?” Ferentinos said, noting that the assault complaint he had filed against Arrington was also a misdemeanor charge – although that one never got prosecuted.
“Where is this selective prosecution going to end?” Ferentinos said. “In other words, if he does that with one, he has to do that with all misdemeanors. “
He predicted that this case would hurt Lamar, a Democrat first elected in 1988 who is running for re-election this year.
“He couldn’t get elected dog catcher this year. He’s finished,” Ferentinos said. “The people of Osceola County are disgusted with this decision. What it is, is ties with the Arrington family with the Lamars. It goes on to local people here that are all connected. It’s called favoritism.”
Means could not be reached for comment.
Ferentinos had asked the sheriff’s office to look into a battery complaint he filed against Arrington, alleging that the commissioner shoved him at a community update meeting at the Kissimmee Oaks Golf Club.
Ferentinos said he believes Arrington was upset about a letter to the editor he had sent to The Osceola News-Gazette, criticizing the incumbent’s record.
“I had put an article in the paper called ‘Three Years with no Vision’ that spelled out everything he has done — and not done,” Ferentinos said, adding that while he was out campaigning, Arrington put a flyer and one of his business cards on the windshield of Ferentinos’ car, inviting him to the community update.
“It said, ‘Hey, Tony, hope to see you at my town hall,’ “ Ferentinos said, adding that he did show up.
“He had a hard time at the meeting,” Ferentinos said. “He only got 37 people to attend. He had a very bad turnout. Bottom line, he got his butt kicked. He was dancing around the issues.”
Ferentinos said a confrontation happened as he was exiting the meeting, and Arrington came up behind him.
“As I was leaving, I’m standing 15 inches from the door, he comes up to me and he starts shoving me out the door until I braced myself,” Ferentinos said. “I said, ‘Are you crazy, what are you doing? ‘ and he said, ‘You don’t belong here.’ I told him, ‘Brandon, you invited me here, remember?’ and he started yelling at me that I have no character. I said, ‘The only character in here, it’s you.’ ”
Ferentinos then filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office.
Former St. Cloud City Councilor Mark Rosenbauer, who is now working on a ballot referendum to establish term limits in Osceola County, has also called on the governor’s office to investigate the decision of the State Attorney’s office not to prosecute this assault charge.
In a letter to the governor’s office, Rosenbauer wrote, “A very serious condition exists in my county, Osceola, and, apparently in Orange County as well! The condition is a local State Attorney who makes the rules on prosecution as his office goes along. That, or there may be some form of political corruption within this office. I’m referring to the actions, or more pointedly, the lack of action by the current State’s Attorney, Lawson Lamar and his decisions on who to prosecute, if at all, and has even stated when his office declined prosecution because it wasn’t fiscally responsible. Meanwhile, criminals, admittedly committing misdemeanors, are continually disregarded by Mr. Lawson Lamar’s office in Orlando.”
He noted that there were several witnesses to the incident at the public hearing who backed up Ferentinios’ complaint.
“Witnesses gave sworn testimony (statements) of observing the assault by Arrington against Mr. Ferentinos,” he wrote. “The Osceola County Sheriff’s office investigated the alleged assault and found enough evidence, based upon witness statements, that the assault did, in fact, occur. The Sheriff’s office sent the case to the State Attorney’s office, which sat on this misdemeanor case for a week or more, and then, today, announced they had decided not to prosecute the case. While this case has all the evidence of an assault, and may, indeed, be somewhat political, the facts do not take away the very notion that a County Commissioner assaulted a citizen, regardless of party affiliation or otherwise.”
Rosenbauer called on the governor’s office, or the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, to “look in to this appearance of the State Attorney’s malfeasance in office, as it does appear his refusal to bring to justice, certain individuals because he just decides not to, has become detrimental to the criminal justice system in our entire region. Some law enforcement officials just accept this behavior because there’s little they can do when his office declines to prosecute. Can you, Governor Scott, help with this terrible condition here in Osceola and Orange counties?”
In an interview with Freeline Media, Rosenbauer said Lamar’s decision sends the wrong message.
“I’m getting ready to go out and commit a whole bunch of misdemeanors, because I know I won’t go to jail for them,” he said.
He added that the decision follows a pattern.
“I’d like to say I’m suprised, but I’m not surprised because of Lawson Lamar’s history involving corrupt political leaders,” he said. “Clearly it’s a good old boys network.”
He urged Osceola County residents to speak out against the decision, and form a unified voice against it.
“While this may not be a major case, Arrington and Ferentinos, the bottom line is it’s still a crime,” he said. “The sheriff’s office spent a lot of money investigating it. They interviewed 37 people. We already have an investment in that investigation. Who is Lamar to say they don’t want to spend the money on this? Who is he to decide or differentiate the law? I don’t think he has the authority to do that. I don’t understand why he thinks he’s above it. But Lawson Lamar has not been a very good prosecutor. In fact, he’s got one of the lowest prosecution rates in the state now. I believe that there is political corruption alive and blossoming in Orange and Osceola counties. I also believe that Mr. Lamar just doesn’t show a lot of interest in this.”
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