State attorney: ‘Hearsay’ not enough to pursue criminal charges over football tickets

This text exchange shows City Manager Rick Fernandez asking a lobbyist for football tickets. Photo: Special to the Tallahassee Democrat

Tallahassee Democrat by Jeffrey Schweers
October 31, 2017

State Attorney Jack Campbell said he doesn’t have enough evidence before him to open a criminal investigation into City Manager Rick Fernandez accepting football tickets and a discount on his daughter’s wedding reception.

“I am familiar with the allegations set out in the media concerning the City of Tallahassee and its employees including the City Manager,” Campbell said in a Tuesday letter to Steve Hougland. “I have also read articles concerning the football tickets and a wedding reception discount, but these stories are hearsay and cannot support a criminal charge.”

Hougland, a college professor and former sheriff’s deputy who ran for City Commission last year, had asked Campbell to refer the matter to the foreman of the Leon County Grand Jury to open an investigation into Fernandez’s conduct because it may violate the state’s gift ban for public officials. He said that the grand jury has a duty to make investigations on its own, including into the conduct of public officials.

But Campbell recommended that if Hougland or anyone else has firsthand knowledge that a crime was committed, it should be reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Last spring, Campbell referred a complaint about Mayor Andrew Gillum’s use of political email software to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office to investigate.

“Here, (Hougland) is saying what’s in the paper is evidence of a crime,” Campbell said.

In his letter, Hougland pointed out that “two documents exist within the public domain” about Fernandez. One of them is a bill from the Edison Restaurant showing Fernandez received a $5,000 discount on the catering bill for his daughter’s wedding reception. The other is a set of text messages showing he requested and received four free tickets worth $2,000 to a Florida State University football game from a lobbyist with Adam Corey’s firm. [READ MORE]

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