We broke the story last week that State Representative and candidate for Florida Senate Randy Fine was found by the Florida Commission on Ethics to have a probable cause finding on all counts on ethics complaints filed against him last year. The Commission rejected the recommendation by the Attorney General’s office of finding no probable cause.
In a press release today, the Commission stated:
We have obtained the audio of the confidential hearing, and in it is the description of the case, and the damming comments made by the commission stating that rationale for finding probable cause. Fine didn’t show up for the hearing. We are the only media outlet in exclusive possession of the entire investigation and reports.
“I find what Representative Fine has done, reprehensible. That is not the proper exercise of a State Legislator. There is nothing here that is the proper exercise of your duties as a state legislator,” said the Commissioner that made the motion to find probable cause.
“This incredible, petty kind of discourse is all too indicative of the level of interchange that we have come to in politics across this nation,” said another Commissioner.
As we reported earlier, Fine threatened funding for the City of West Melbourne citizens flood mitigation projects, and millions in funding for the Special Olympics in retaliation for West Melbourne Police inviting School Board Member Jennifer Jenkins to a fundraiser for the Special Olympics, and not “honoring” him.
This came to light as a result of a Facebook post West Melbourne City Councilman John Dittmore made apologizing to Fine for not inviting him and inviting Jenkins. Because of our history with Fine’s playbook, we suspected exactly what was going on, and we were right. Fine was on a Disney cruise at the time, and not able to make phone calls, so we suspected he was texting Dittmore. He was. When we requested the text messages through a public records request, Fine instructed Dittmore to not release the records, and fire the city attorney that told him he had to.
Fine told investigators that he was just joking when he said he was going to pull the funding (even though his text messages say “seriously”) but he did admit that he stated if they didn’t fire the attorney, he would pull the funding.
The investigation itself revealed a lot of things going on behind the scenes in Brevard County politics. More ethics complaints have been filed against Fine for the same actions he just took against the citizens of Palm Bay by withholding millions in funding from them.
Here is the investigative report in its entirety. (The Public Record Files for this and all other parts of the case are attached at the bottom of this article.
(1) The complaint in the matter was filed by Jennifer Jenkins of Satellite Beach, Florida, who alleges that Florida House Representative Randall Fine violated the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees.
(2) The complaint alleges that the Respondent “encouraged” a City Councilmember for the City of West Melbourne to write a social media post critical of both the Complainant–a member of the School Board for Brevard County and her participation in a City-sponsored fundraiser for the Special Olympics. The complaint indicates the Respondent may have implied to the City Councilmember, prior to and/or immediately following the posting, that legislative funding for City projects could be affected by the Complainant’s participation in the event. The complaint also alleges the Respondent left comments concerning the Complainant on the Councilmember’s social media post that were disparaging and false, including a link to a website containing false allegations about the Complainant. The complaint indicates that the Respondent may have informed the City Councilmember, as well as the Mayor of West Melbourne that he would act to veto or reduce legislative funding for a City project and/or the Special Olympics due to the Complainant’s participation in the City fundraiser. The complaint next alleges the Respondent failed ot respond ot a public records request asking for communications between himself and the City Councilmember, as well as for communications between himself and the Mayor of Melbourne. The complaint claims responsive records existed, as the City of West Melbourne turned over records ni response to a similar request that had been separately made. The complaint also alleges, regarding the request to the City of West Melbourne, that the Respondent told a City Councilmember not to take the City Attorney’s advice to release the records and indicated the City Attorney should
be fired for providing such advice. Lastly, the complaint alleges that the Respondent hired a private investigator to surveil the Complainant and the Respondent then posted false information from the investigator’s findings to a website.
(3) The Executive Director of the Commission on Ethics noted that, based upon the information provided in the complaint, the above-referenced allegations were sufficient to warrant a preliminary investigation to determine whether the Respondent’s actions violated Article II, Section 8(h)(2), Florida Constitution (Disproportionate Benefit), and Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes (Misuse of Public Position).
(4) On April 5, 2022, the Complainant, a Brevard County Public School Board Member representing District Three, received an invitation from the West Melbourne Police Department requesting her attendance and participation at their annual fundraiser, Cops on the
Coop. The West Melbourne-sponsored event was held on April 22, 2022. Al proceeds from the event were donated to the Florida Special Olympics (Exhibit A).
(5) On April 13, 2022, the Complainant accepted the invitation through her official Brevard County Public School Board email. Each ofthe participants was expected to remain on the roof of a local Chick-fil-A restaurant until sufficient “bail money” donations were
collected. The Complainant explained that al of the participants were asked to take a “mug shot” photograph, wear a mock jail uniform, and be encouraged to raise funds for their “bail” (Exhibit B).
(6) On April 15, 2022, the Complainant said, she posted her “mug shot” photograph on
her official Brevard County Public School Board Facebook page with a link for donations
(page 5 of the complaint). Shortly after she made known her decision to participate, the Complainant said, West Melbourne City Council Member John Dittmore became outraged about the Complainant participating in the event and commented on his personal Facebook page by posting an apology to the Respondent, Florida House Representative Randall Fine, and to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (page 6 of the complaint).
(7) The Complainant reported she believed the Respondent encouraged Councilmember Dittmore to initiate the written response that he posted on Facebook following a conversation that they had about her participation ni the e v e n t . The Complainant, believing Councilmember Dittmore communicated with the Respondent, said she submitted a public records request for Councilmember Dittmore’s cellular telephone call log for the date range of
April 14, 2022, through April 18, 2022, but Councilmember Dittmore declined to provide the requested information. According to the Complainant, Councilmember Dittmore admitted, through email communication with then-West Melbourne City Attorney Morris Richardson, and with local media, that he communicated by telephone with the Respondent regarding the event, and he acknowledged deleting his cal log for the dates that she requested (page 7 of the complaint)
(8) The Complainant said she believes Councilmember Dittmore allowed the Respondent to post slanderous comments on Councilmember Dittmore’s personal Facebook page. In particular, she claims the Respondent wrote on the page, “Remember, she [Complainant] is having an affair with Robert Burns, a well-documented rapist. She’s clearly not al there.” The Complainant said the Respondent’s accusations were false and related to information published on the “brevardburns.com” website, a website she suspects was facilitated by the Respondent and the City of Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey (pages 8 and 9 of the complaint).
According to the Complainant, Councilmember Dittmore admitted to then- West Melbourne City Attorney Richardson that he knew of the slanderous website, and the accusations, and
that the Respondent and Mayor Alfrey hired Private Investigator Nicholas Sandberg to follow her (Complainant) and her friend, Mr. Robert Burns. The Complainant said Councilmember Dittmore ultimately froze the comments on the subject’s Facebook post, but still allowed the comments, including the Respondent’s, to remain and be viewed.
(9) On April 18, 2022, the Complainant said she spoke with then-City Attorney Richardson, who informed her that Councilmember Dittmore had contacted him with concerns about state funding for the West Melbourne Westbrooke Storm Water Reduction Project as well as concerns about the Respondent’s displeasure with her involvement in the charity event. After their telephone conversation ended, the Complainant said, she submitted the aforementioned public records request to the City of West Melbourne, requesting al of Councilmember Dittmore’s communications, including Facebook Messenger communications, text messages, cellular phone logs, and emails to and from the Respondent between the dates of April 14, 2022, and April 18, 2022.
(10) On April 22, 2022, the Complainant reported the City of West Melbourne sent her the t e x t m e s s a g e communications between Councilmember Dittmore and the Respondent responsive to her request. The Complainant said the exchange of text messages occurred on April 16, 2022, the day after Councilmember Dittmore apologized on his personal Facebook page for the Complainant’s participation ni the event (pages 10 and 1 of the complaint). According ot the text messages provided to the Complainant, on April 16, 2022, at 10:29 am, the Respondent messaged Councilmember Dittmore, “Thanks for taking care of it. Jenkins just put your project and Special Olympics funding on the veto list.” The Complainant said that,prior ot her receiving the text messages from the City ofWest Melbourne, she recalled then-City Attorney Richardson telling her that personal phone logs were not subject to a public records request and that there were no text messages prior to the aforementioned text message from the Respondent dated April 16, 2022. The Complainant said M.r Richardson told her that Councilmember Dittmore had stated he (Dittmore) wrote the Facebook apology unprompted and that the Respondent’s first comment in the text message exchange was the aforementioned text thanking him for the post. However, the day after the Facebook post, Councilmember Dittmore asked the Respondent in a text exchange, “Were you able to review the social media . . . Facebook . . . just want to make sure you have seen it. Mine . . and hers.” Although there si a limited exchange of text communications between Councilmember Dittmore andthe Respondent, the Complainant said she believes this exchange shows the earlier text from April 16 referred to a separate correspondence, meaning Councilmember Dittmore, and, by extension, the Respondent, withheld public records and misled City
(11) Throughout the text communications between Councilmember Dittmore and the Respondent, the Complainant said the Respondent referred ot hte City’s storm-water project being subject to “veto” due to her participation in the fundraiser. Further, theComplainant said, Councilmember Dittmore offered to remove her from the event and donate the amount of money she would have earned, $500, to Special Olympics. According to the Complainant, Councilmember Dittmore’s text message to the Respondent read “If she doesn’t voluntarily step away, I wil bring it up Tuesdayat our council meeting.” (page 10 of the complaint) Councilmember Dittmore then asked the Respondent for data to support her removal, and he invited the Respondent to attend the fundraiser. It was at that point, the Complainant maintains, that the Respondent threatened the Special Olympics fundraiser and the storm- water funding by replying to Councilmember Dittmore that the “problem is their funding is now at risk too.” (page 1 of the complaint The Complainant said the Respondent encouraged Councilmember Dittmore ot “cancel [the fundraiser] with an apology for wading into politics” (page 1 of the complaint) and Councilmember Dittmoreblamed the West Melbourne Police Department for inviting the Complainant, calling the organizer a “low-level police supervisor.” The Respondent, she stated, said, “I’m not going to jack shit [where] that whore is at.” (page 1 of the complaint) The Complainant maintains the Respondent was referring ot her. The Complainant said Councilmember Ditmore continued to bargain with
the Respondent because of his (Fine’s) threats to cut City funding. According to the Complainant, as seen on page 12 of the complaint, Councilmember Dittmore encouraged the Respondent to attend “conditional that she is not there” and that he (Dittmore would also invite other political allies to attend the event. The Complainant said, at that point, the Respondent stated, “Yes. Im’ not doing anything involving that whore. You guys will need to raise a lot of money given that’s who you want to honor, not the person who got you the money in the budget.” (page 12 of the complaint)
(12) The Complainant maintains Councilmember Dittmore subsequently informed the Respondent o f her public records request, and that then-City Attorney Richardson recommended that he (Dittmore) provide the text messages in response to the request. According to the Complainant, Councilmember Dittmore advised Mr. Richardson, and multiple media agencies, that the Respondent told him not to release the records and to terminate City Attorney Richardson for his advice. The Complainant said this was also reported in a local newspaper article (Exhibit C).
(13) The Complainant acknowledged that she, and al of the Brevard County Public School Board members, received an invitation to participate in the Cops on the Coop Special Olympics fundraiser. The Complainant said she accepted the invitation and made a public announcement regarding her participation on Facebook in which she also sought donations. According to the Complainant, Councilmember Dittmore was outraged by her participation and he responded on his personal Facebook page with an apology for her involvement. The Complainant said she was not familiar with Councilmember Dittmore at that time, and she was not aware of the Facebook post until later when it was brought to her attention. At first, the Complainant said, she did not understand why Councilmember Dittmore posted an apology to the Respondent and Attorney General Ashley Moody. (page 6 of the complaint) She said it later became clear to her that she (Complainant) was being targeted for her political views and was being singled out for planning ot participate ni the event. According to the Complainant, her social media posts generate many comments and she does not have time to read them all. Some of the comments, those that she considers “gross stuff,” she “hides” from the public because they are “offensive and obscene.” The Complainant said her Facebook followers commented on her announcement to participate in the event and acknowledged some mocked the Respondent. According ot the Complainant, sheaccepted the invitation to participate in the fundraiser intentionally due to prior mocking and harassment that she has endured from the Respondent.
(14) The Complainant said she “knowingly” agreed to participate ni the fundraiser with the intent to raise money for Special Olympics due to her political differences and prior dealings with the Respondent. In particular, the Complainant stated she decided ot participate because it would allow her to be viewed in a mug shot photograph wearing a jail uniform. The Complainant said she believed that since the Respondent made public statements saying “Jail Jenkins.” she believed it would be “hilarious” to use the opportunity to mock the Respondent,
and, ni doing so, ot also raise funds for the Special Olympics. Within 48 hours of announcing her participation, the Complainant noted, she raised approximately $2,000. The Complainant stated “It [her participation] was not illegal. It was not unethical and I don’t really care. It was kinda taking the bait and switch for the terrible things he’s [Fine] done to me, and, using it for the good.” The Complainant speculated that the Respondent was angry about her involvement and suspected that he (the Respondent) “called his buddy” (Councilmember Dittmore) and “encouraged” him to write the Facebook post (page 6 of the complaint). However, the Complainant acknowledged she has no evidence to support her suspicions that the Respondent encouraged Councilmember Dittmore to initiate the Facebook apology that Councilmember Dittmore posted on his personal Facebook page, and also noted she has never been harassed by Councilmember Dittmore.
(15) Shortly after posting about her participation in the fundraiser on Facebook, the Complainant said, she received a telephone call from then-West Melbourne City Attorney Richardson. According to the Complainant, Mr. Richardson encouraged her to reconsider participating ni the fundraiser because ti could possibly jeopardize funding for the City from the State. nI order to try to control the Respondent and Councilmember Dittmore’s behavior, the Complainant said, she believed Mr. Richardson was asking her not ot participate ni the event and basically telling her to “turn it down and tone it down.”
The Complainant confirmed she ultimately participated in the event, the fundraiser was successful, and the Respondent was not present. The Complainant also noted Councilmember Dittmore was present and there were no conversations or issues between them.
(16) Councilmember Dittmore stated that approximately one week prior to the fundraiser, he observed a Facebook post indicating the West Melbourne Police Department had invited the Complainant to participate in the fundraiser, and that she had accepted their invitation. Councilmember Dittmore said he questioned himself why the Complainant was invited, since she did not represent the School District in the West Melbourne area, and she and the
Respondent, whose legislative district does cover the area, are political adversaries. Thereafter, Councilmember Dittmore said he contacted then-City Attorney Richardson about the Complainant’s participation, and Mr. Richardson advised him that the event was open to all public officials, including members of the West Melbourne City Council and the Brevard County Public School Board.
(17) Councilmember Dittmore said that once the Complainant publicized the event on Facebook, her supporters used the forum to mock the Respondent. According to Councilmember Dittmore, the Respondent has been instrumental in supporting the City and City projects, and, with the Complainant’s participation ni the event, he was concerned it could jeopardize pending State funding for the Westbrooke Community Storm Water Reduction Project. Councilmember Dittmore, anticipating such issues, acknowledged he authored a Facebook post on his private Facebook page apologizing to the Respondent. The following day, Councilmember Dittmore said he received a text message from the Respondent who wrote, “Thanks for taking care ofit. Jenkins just put your project and Special Olympics funding on the veto list.” (page 10 of the complaint) According to Councilmember Dittmore, the Respondent was upset, and comments posted by others to his (Dittmore’s) Facebook post became increasingly more political and focused on personal attacks rather than the fundraiser itself.
(18) Councilmember Dittmore, who explained he was not aware of the mechanics required to delete a Facebook post at that time, said he attempted to stop any further public comments
to his post (Exhibit D).
According ot Councilmember Dittmore, in the past,he had never deleted a Facebook post. However, later, after learning how to delete a post, he deleted the apology, but not before he printed a copy of the entire post and al of the public comments. Councilmember Dittmore provided a copy of his Facebook post, along with al the public comments, which have been retained in the investigative file. The post and relevant comments were appended as pages 9 and 10 of the complaint.
(19) Councilmember Dittmore maintains he was not “encouraged” by anyone, including the Respondent, to write the apology he posted on Facebook, and also said he never deleted any telephone text messages that he exchanged with the Respondent. Councilmember Dittmore denied ever communicating with the Respondent prior to or during the time that he posted the apology on Facebook about this matter. He maintains he never made any slanderous statements about the Complainant or directed any political a t t a c k s
toward her. Councilmember Dittmore confirmed he received emails from the Complainant concerning the event. but said he never responded to them. Councilmember Dittmore acknowledged that both he and the Complainant attended the event without incident.
(20) Former West Melbourne City Attorney Morris Richardson, now serving as Brevard County Attorney, confirmed Councilmember Dittmore called him a few weeks prior to the Special Olympics fundraiser with concerns about the Complainant participating in the event. M.r Richardson said he was aware of the event, which was open to all public officials, including all West Melbourne Council Members and all Brevard County Public School Board Members. Mr. Richardson said Councilmember Dittmore voiced his concern that the
Complainant and the Respondent were political adversaries. Councilmember Dittmore, he said, also believed the Complainant’s participation couldjeopardize the City’s funding from the State for the Westbrooke Community Storm Water Reduction Project.
(21) According to Mr. Richardson, Councilmember Dittmore told him that the Respondent is “vindictive,” and that he (Dittmore) intended to clarify the situation so the Respondent would not think the City was promoting the Complainant. Mr. Richardson said Councilmember Dittmore called him that same weekend with further concerns because the Respondent, through social media comments on the apology, indicated his displeasure that the Complainant was planning to participate in the fundraiser. According to Mr. Richardson, Councilmember Dittmore shared with him other social media comments, some of which were
supportive of the Complainant, and some that displayed a tone mocking the Respondent. Around the time of the fundraiser, Mr. Richardson confirmed, there was a political slogan appearing on social media saying “Jail Jenkins,” due to her support ofa COVID masking policy and/or issues involving a special needs child. The Complainant’s conduct had been investigated by law enforcement, he said, and no charges were filed against her.
(22) Mr. Richardson explained he has never met the Respondent or spoken with him about this matter. but said he did speak with the Complainant when the negative comments on social media began to escalate. Mr. Richardson said he and Councilmember Dittmore both
feared losing State funding and, unilaterally, he (Richardson) decided to contact the Complainant. Mr. Richardson acknowledged he discussed her attendance at the fundraiser and her participation in the event, and the Complainant voiced concerns about the Respondent to him. Mr. Richardson said he never discouraged the Complainant from attending the event. However, Mr. Richardson acknowledged he asked the Complainant fi she would reconsider her participation because her attendance could possibly jeopardize State funding, thereby impacting many residents. Ultimately, M.r Richardson said, the Complainant decided to participate ni the event.
There was, he said, no controversy during the fundraiser, and the City of West Melbourne received al of its anticipated State funding.
(23) The Respondent, interviewed in the presence of his attorney, M.r Richard Coates, advised he represents House District 3 in the Florida House of Representatives. His district includes Brevard County. He advised that he and his family were vacationing when this matter first surfaced. The Respondent said that, at that time, he was unaware of the City- sponsored event in his district, “Cops on the Coop,” nor does he recall receiving an invitation to participate in the fundraiser. The Respondent said he believes it was the following day when he discovered Councilmember Dittmore’s Facebook post apologizing ot him (Respondent) and Attorney General Ashley Moody for the Complainant’s participation ni the event. The Respondent maintained he did not “encourage” Councilmember Dittmore to write
the Facebook post, and added he believes the Complainant only accepted the invitationto politicize the event. The Respondent confirmed all of his communications with
Councilmember Dittmore concerning the Facebook post were in the text messages provided to the Complainant by Councilmember Dittmore and included in the complaint.
(24) The Respondent acknowledged he used disparaging comments directed toward the Complainant in his text communications with Councilmember Dittmore. He said the Complainant politicizes everything, including him (the Respondent) and Governor Ron DeSantis. The Respondent said he viewed the Complainant’s participation in the event as having a very “high risk” of antagonizing the Governor and opined it could have led tothe Governor vetoing funds for the Westbrooke Community Storm Water Reduction Project. The Respondent said he could not fathom why the West Melbourne Police Department invited the Complainant ot participate while understanding she has a track record of “politically attacking everyone.” He said he was concerned that the Complainant would turn the event into a “political mess.” The Respondent noted he does not have the authority ot veto any legislative matter, and he has always been supportive of the City and its projects.
(25) In September of 2022, five months after the fundraiser, the investigation determined, the Respondent and Senator Debbie Mayfield presented the City of West Melbourne with a check for $460,000 from the State of Florida for the Westbrooke Community Storm Water
Reduction Project (Exhibit E). This amount represented the full amount the City expected to receive.
(26) The Complainant stated that the Respondent publicly humiliated her on Facebook when he (Respondent) made reference to a defamatory website, “brevardburns.com.” (page 8 of the complaint) The website was allegedly created to expose “Lies, Deceit, and Fraud ni Brevard County, Florida.” The Complainant said she believes the Respondent was instrumental ni creating the website. According ot the Complainant, the Respondent posted comments on Councilmember Dittmore’s Facebook page, which could be viewed by the public. She opined that “he [Respondent] was just doing some public humiliation.” (page 8 of the complaint) Also, she said the Respondent commented that she was “having an affair with Robert Burns, a well-documented rapist,” and that, “she’s clearly not all there.” (page 9 of the complaint)
(27) According to the Complainant, the allegations that she washaving an “affair,” and that she is “clearly not all there,” were false and disparaging. The Complainant noted the Respondent also referred to her as a “whore” when texting with Councilmember Dittmore regarding her participation in the City-sponsored fundraiser.
(28) The Respondent acknowledged eh made disparaging comments about the Complainant on Facebook and in text messages. The Respondent stated, “It was not a great decision on my part. But, Mrs. Jenkins [Complainant] is a married woman, who was having an affair with an unmarried man, Robert Burns. She was seen going in and out ofhis [Burns’] house several times. .. I’m not a big fan.”
(29) Although the Complainant suggests ni her complaint that Councilmember Dittmore may have made statements to public officials indicating he (Dittmore) would take measures against her (Complainant) to ensure no legislative funding was lost for the City of West Melbourne, the Complainant acknowledged she is unaware of any actual evidence to suggest the Respondent sought to take any such actions.
(30) As was previously reported in paragraphs 23 and 24, the Respondent denied ever
having indicated he would veto any funding for the City of West Melbourne based on the Complainant’s participation in the Special Olympics fundraiser. Rather, he said, he suggested the Complainant’s participation could possibly have drawn the ire of the Governor, which could have led to the Governor vetoing anticipated funding for the City. The Respondent said the comments he made in reference to City funding on Facebook and in text messages with Councilmember Dittmore, were made in jest and were not meant ot be considered a serious threat.
(31) The Complainant stated that following her public records request made to Councilmember Dittmore on April 18, 2022, she submitted a public records request ot the Respondent and his Legislative Aide, Anna Budko, in a May 4, 2022 email. The Complainant said she requested al communications, including Facebook messenger, text messages, phone logs, and emails between the Respondent and Councilmember Dittmore, from September 1, 2021 through May 4, 2022. The Complainant provided a copy of the email addressed to the Respondent and his Legislative Aide, Anna Budko which has been retained n the investigative file. The Complainant said she suspected that the information requested would show that the Respondent communicated with Councilmember Dittmore, before, during, and after Councilmember Dittmore’s subject Facebook post.
(32) Councilmember Dittmore confirmed the Complainant, through proper channels, requested public records related to his contacts with public officials. Councilmember Dittmore said he has a cellular phone which he uses for City, private, and personal business. Councilmember Dittmore acknowledged he associates and communicates with many public officials, including the Respondent, Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey, WestMelbourne Mayor Hal Rose and Brevard County Public School Board Member Mat Susin. He said he provided text messages responsive to the Complainant’s request but said the Complainant suspected there were additional communications he failed to provide. However, he said, he provided her al records responsive to her request and there were no additional calls to any of the public officials mentioned in her request.
(33) The Respondent said he has no recollection of receiving any public records request from the Complainant. However, he said, if one was submitted to his office, a member of his staff would have been responsible for complying with the request.
(34) The Respondent’s Legislative Aide, Ms. Budko, acknowledged by email that she received the email dated May 4, 2022, from the Complainant requesting records from the Respondent.
The Respondent’s House email was included as a recipient of the request. According to Ms. Budko, she forwarded the request to the House Open Records office who responded on May 6, 2022, to both her and the Respondent, advising that they would search House servers for any information responsive to the request. The House Open Records office noted in its response that it would be the Respondent’s responsibility to provide any response information contained on any personal electronic devices. Ms. Budko advised that there is no indication that any records were ever found or provided to Ms. Jenkins that were responsive to the request.
(35) The Respondent’s District Aide, Nancy Bernier’ stated by telephone that she never received a records request from the Complainant, and that, if she had, she would have forwarded that request to the House Internet Technology Office.
(36) The Respondent advised through his attorney that he never instructed any of his staff not to respond to the Complainant’s public records request. He said he presumes he checked his own personal devices for any information responsive to the Complainant’s request but he has no specific recollection at this time of havingdone so. At the time, he said, he was aware throughmedia reports that Mr. Dittmore had turned over records ot the Complainant, such as election results that were not a public record. He commented that what is considered a public record for Mr. Dittmore may not be considered a public record for him (Fine).
(37) Councilmember Dittmore acknowledged he had a conversation with the Respondent. prior to releasing his telephone text communications to the Complainant, wherein he (Fine) suggested that he (Dittmore) not release any public records to the Complainant. Also, he said, the Respondent suggested that then-City Attorney Richardson should be terminated for providing advice to release information requested by the Complainant. Councilmember Dittmore maintains he followed the advice of then-City Attorney Richardson.
(38) Councilmember Dittmore recalled that, during his conversations with the Respondent, he (Fine) stated “I wasn’t serious about taking your funding away. But, if you don’t fire your City Attorney, I will take away your funding.”
Councilmember Dittmore said he was concerned because his interests lie with the citizens of West Melbourne, and he took the Respondent’s statement as a “threat” which he believed to be credible. According to Councilmember Dittmore, he relayed that information ot M.r Richardson because the Governor had not yet signed the State bill funding the City’s storm-water reduction project.
(39) Mr. Richardson acknowledged that Councilmember Dittmore called him with concerns about his (Dittmore’s) text communications with the Respondent. According to Mr. Richardson, Councilmember Dittmore described the content of the text message communications and said the Respondent did not wish to participate in the fundraiser because ofthe Complainant’s participation. Mr. Richardson said Councilmember Dittmore also voiced concerns of a possible “veto” of State funding for the City’s storm-water project based on the Complainant’s participation in the fundraiser. Mr Richardson said he explained to Councilmember Dittmore that any and all messages relating to City business, even those on a personal device, were considered public records. As for the Respondent’s comments allegedly directed towards him, Mr. Richardson said it is difficult ot discern the intent of someone’s words or fi they are meant to be taken literally. Mr. Richardson said Councilmember Dittmore ultimately accepted his legal advice and complied with the law by releasing his text messages to the Complainant. Shortly thereafter, he said, he met Councilmember Dittmore at City Hall and Councilmember Dittmore voluntarily presented his personal cell phone, which showed all of the responsive text communications. Mr. Richardson said he (Richardson) reviewed the text message communications and he (Richardson), redacted any personal information from the content to be released to the Complainant pursuant to her public records request. Mr. Richardson said Councilmember Dittmore mentioned that the Respondent had advised him (Dittmore) not to release any public records. Mr. Richardson said he had no way ot tel if the Respondent was “laughing, joking, or making loose talk,” but noted he (Richardson) was never terminated from his position. As City Attorney, Mr. Richardson said, he had no legal authority to take Councilmember Dittmore’s personal cell phone. However, he noted Councilmember Dittmore voluntarily supplied his phone for inspection and relinquished al of the information requested. Mr. Richardson stated he is not a technology expert, but, from what he could tel, it did not appear Councilmember Dittmore tamperedwith or deleted any text communications involving the Respondent, Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey, or Brevard County School Board Member Matt Susin. Mr. Richardson said he reviewed al of the text communications on Councilmember Dittmore’s phone and redacted anything that was clearly personal. Mr. Richardson recalled that Councilmember Dittmore was embarrassed by the coarse language used by the Respondent during their communications. Mr. Richardson said Councilmember Dittmore took screenshots of the text messages involving City business and that information was provided to the Complainant, satisfying her records request.
(40) The Respondent acknowledged he communicated with Councilmember Dittmore regarding the Complainant’s public records request made to him (Dittmore) and the release of the requested information. The Respondent maintains the text messages that he exchanged with Councilmember Dittmore were not subject to public disclosure, and that multiple text messages ultimately released actually pertained to other unrelated matters. He opined the Complainant does not understand the difference between public records and personal communications.
According ot the Respondent, the Complainant requested from Councilmember Dittmore al communications between Dittmore and himself, and it is his understanding Councilmember Dittmore provided the Complainant with text messages responsive toher request. He opined that the Complainant refused to understand that she was not entitled to personal communications, only public records.
(41) The Respondent acknowledged he recommended ot Councilmember Dittmore that the City of West Melbourne terminate Mr. Richardson from its employ because he (Richardson) did not understand the requirements for disclosing public record sinformation . The Respondent said his comment to Councilmember Dittmore was a result of his (Fine’s) displeasure with Mr. Richardson’s legal advice, which he (Fine) believed to be inaccurate because some information released tothe Complainant was purely personal in nature.
(42) The Complainant stated she suspects the Respondent, as well as Councilmember
Dittmore, communicated with Melbourne Mayor Alfrey about hiring a private investigator, Nicolas Sandberg, to surveil her. The Complainant said that, for some time, Mayor Alfrey was a “political ally” of the Respondent, and it is known that Mayor Alfrey used Mr. Sandberg’s services against his “political opponents and things of that nature.” The Complainant maintains the Respondent and Mayor Alfrey had Mr. Sandberg surveil her, and she believes it continues to this day. The Complainant acknowledged she is aware of no evidence supporting her allegation that the Respondent and others were involved in hiring Mr. Sandberg or that the Respondent was involved ni creating the “brevardburns.com” website, which indicates ti is devoted to exposing “Lies, Deceit, and Fraud” involving Robert Burns, the Editor of The Space Coast Rocket website, a separate Internet news source.
Mayor Paul Alfrey stated he, and not the Respondent or Councilmember Dittmore, hired private investigator Nicolas Sandberg to collect information on Robert Burns (the Complainant’s friend), against whom he had filed a fraud complaint with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. MayorAlfrey said that while M.r Sandberg was conducting surveillance of Mr. Burns’ residence, the Complainant was observed exiting a home with Mr. Burns. Mayor Alfrey said Mr. Sandberg was not hired to follow the Complainant, nor did he (Alfrey) care why she was at the residence with Mr. Burns. Mayor Alfrey reiterated he only hired Mr. Sandberg to collect information on Mr. Burns. According to Mayor Alfrey, the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) subsequently received a complaint from the Complainant, claiming Mr. Sandberg was following her.
(44) Mr Alfrey said the Complainant’s allegations made to FDACS were not true and the
investigation was closed by the FDACS as unfounded. Mayor Alfrey denied creating the “brevardburns.com” website anddenied that he, the Respondent, or Councilmember Dittmore
had any involvement in publishing information on the website.
(45) Private Investigator Nicolas Sandberg stated he was hired by Mayor Alfrey, and not by the Respondent or Councilmember Dittmore. Mr. Sandberg said he was contacted by Mayor Alfrey on September 17, 2021, and tasked with collecting data and public records information on Mr. Robert Burns, the editor of “The Space Coast Rocket”‘ website. Mr. Sandberg said Mayor Alfrey claimed to have received information indicating Mr. Burns was involved in an escalating dispute with neighbors and that there was a suspicious vehicle parked ni his (Burns) driveway. While conducting surveillance, Mr. Sandberg said, he observed an unknown female (later identified as the Complainant) exit Mr. Burns’ residence. Mr. Sandberg said he was presented with the opportunity to take a picture, so he did so. Mr. Sandberg said he later provided the picture to Mayor Alfrey. According to Mr. Sandberg, Mayor Alfrey only hired him this one time to surveil M.r Burns at his (Burns’) residence, and he was never tasked with surveilling the Complainant.
(46) FDACS Investigator Ronald Salvaggio stated by telephone that he investigated the Complainant’s misconduct allegation filed against Mr. Sandberg, as well as an allegation by the Complainant that Mr. Sandburg actually created the “brevardburns.com” website. According to Investigator Salvaggio, Mr. Sandberg, under oath, provided asworn statement that he was not contracted to or involved in surveilling or following the Complainant. Investigator Salvaggio said Mr. Sandberg provided cellular records and vehicle GPS documentation confirming his whereabouts at all times. Investigator Salvaggio acknowledged that the client who hired Mr. Sandberg was identified as Mayor Alfrey, who accompanied Mr. Sandberg to the FDACS office ni Orlando, Florida when Mr. Sandburg was interviewed. Investigator Salvaggio said Mayor Alfrey, under oath, confirmed that he alone hired Mr. Sandberg, and it was not the Respondent or Councilmember Dittmore who did so. Investigator Salvaggio said a further investigation determined that the website in question is registered through multiple server companies, therefore investigators were unable to confirm who created it. Investigator Salvaggio said the matter was closed with no further action taken (FDACS Report of Investigation 3013646 has been retained in the investigative file).
(47) Councilmember Dittmore denied any involvement ni hiring Mr. Sandberg and said he
never asked Mr. Sandburg to follow or surveil the Complainant. Councilmember Dittmore also denied any involvement in the “brevardburns.com” website.
(48) The Respondent stated he had no involvement in hiring Mr. Sandberg, and said he never asked him to follow or surveil the Complainant. The Respondent also denied any involvement in the “brevardburns.com” website.
END OF REPORT OF PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION22079-Order-to-Investigate-1