As Gov. Rick Scott on Friday continued to brush off questions about allegations of political meddling made by the state’s former top law enforcement officer, pressure mounted elsewhere in Florida to get answers.
A Land O’Lakes man filed a formal complaint with the FBI asking for an investigation into a series of claims made last week by Gerald Bailey, whom Scott ousted as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“There’s a clear indication of tampering with criminal investigations and FDLE that an impartial investigator needs to take a look at,” said Jim Frissell, a 58-year-old engineer and former Indiana deputy sheriff.
Frissell sent his complaint to Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who, along with Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, said on Thursday that a third party should investigate Bailey’s allegations, which included charges that Scott’s office or campaign pressured him to fudge details in a criminal investigation, shuttle campaign workers in state vehicles, expedite a criminal investigation of a possible Scott appointee and craft Scott’s campaign platform on law enforcement.
Scott’s office has broadly deemed Bailey’s allegations to be “false” or “petty.”
Frissell disagrees with Putnam’s suggestion that the FDLE’s inspector general could handle the case and hopes to persuade him to push for a federal investigation.
“FDLE appears to be under political pressure by the governor’s office,” Frissell wrote Putnam. “Therefore, the FDLE would NOT be independent to fully investigate this matter.”
Putnam’s spokeswoman, Erin Gillespie, confirmed he received Frissell’s request and “looks forward to reviewing it.”
One of the most serious allegations from Bailey is that former Scott chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth pressured him to claim that the acting clerk of court in Orange County, Colleen Reilly, was the target of a 2013 FDLE criminal inquiry after two prison inmates used forged papers from her office to plot their escape. Such a maneuver would have shifted the blame from the agency that released the prisoners, the Department of Corrections that Scott oversees, but Bailey said he refused.
On Friday, for the first time since her name surfaced in the standoff between Scott and Bailey, Reilly issued a public statement, siding with the lawman.
“I have only one statement about all of this,” Reilly said in an email. “A man who, at significant personal risk, stands on principle to protect a stranger from a grave injustice, is a hero. I do not know Gerald Bailey, but he obviously is a man of courage and integrity. He has my respect, admiration and gratitude.”
Reilly now works in Plano, Texas, for a technology firm. She wouldn’t comment further.
During news conferences Friday in Miramar and Winter Park, Scott stepped up his criticism of Bailey, saying that it was only after he “agreed to step down” that he “decided to make attacks.”
A tense exchange with reporters in Winter Park occurred after Scott refused to answer whether his office pushed to falsely name Reilly’s office in the criminal investigation, or if he would call for a third-party investigation.
“Is that all you have?” he asked reporters before ducking into a car to leave. “See you guys.”
The Bailey affair erupted Jan. 13 after a Cabinet meeting where Putnam, Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi unanimously approved Scott’s choice to replace Bailey, Rick Swearingen.
At the time of the vote, the Cabinet seemed to support the change in guard, even as members were told that Bailey, who was widely respected, said he left unwillingly. Only later did the three Cabinet members distance themselves from Scott’s move, suggesting they were misled.
They’ve all recommended that they discuss the FDLE matter at the Feb. 5 Cabinet meeting, but can’t agree whether it should be held at the scheduled State Fair venue in Tampa, which Scott prefers, or moved back to Tallahassee, which Putnam favors.
For Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, the most troubling aspect of the Bailey saga is that it exposed secret interactions between the staffs of the governor and Cabinet that violate the state’s meetings laws, which require public business be conducted in the open.
Both Scott and the Cabinet members have explained that the decision to replace Bailey was communicated via staff members. At the time of the vote to approve Swearingen, there was no public discussion about why the move was being made.
“It took the dumping of Bailey to make this come to light,” Petersen said. “There was a major decision to force the resignation of someone who is respected, then hire someone who isn’t on anyone’s radar screen, and there’s no discussion? It smacks of collusion.”