There may have been some foul play during the signature-gathering process during one of the 2022 Florida gambling-related ballot initiatives.
Last month, a judge issued a warrant for the arrest of a woman involved with Initiative #21-16, also known as the Florida Casino Gaming Expansion Initiative. Law enforcement officials allege she falsified information about voters that appeared to sign the petition.
The failed 2022 ballot initiatives
Federally-recognized Native American tribes own and operate all seven Florida casinos. The Seminole Tribe of Florida runs six of them. However, the initiative would allow commercial casinos to enter the state as long as it was outside a 130-mile radius of a Seminole-owned property.
A political action committee called Florida Voters in Charge backed the initiative. Gaming giant Las Vegas Sands Corp was the PAC’s largest donor. The company donated $73.5 million of the $75.5 million given to the group. The Poarch Band Creek of Indians gave the other $2 million. Several industry experts believed Las Vegas Sands wanted to build a casino in Jacksonville.
DraftKings and FanDuel funded the other gambling initiative. The proposal aimed to allow non-Seminole entities to enter a possible Florida sports betting market. Both initiatives needed nearly 1 million signatures to get on the ballot. Neither succeeded in hitting the benchmark.
The campaigns for both initiatives were hard-fought. But there was an alleged controversy regarding those collecting signatures and those opposing expansion. In December, an arrest warrant was issued for a Marianna woman accused of violating Florida’s election laws.
The arrest warrant may be part of a statewide sweep of alleged election crimes, which Governor Ron DeSantis has publicized.
On December 5, 2022, a judge issued an arrest warrant for a 60-year-old woman from Marianna in Jackson County. The affidavit asserts that there was probable cause to arrest her on:
- Five counts of False Swearing, Submission of False Voter Information; and
- Five counts of Perjury When Not in an Official Proceeding
The false swearing counts are a third-degree felony, and the perjury counts are a first-degree misdemeanor.
The arrest warrant included a notation that no bond be issued until the accused appears before a judge. The accused was arrested on December 8, 2022.
The affidavit for the arrest warrant
The affidavit was provided by a special agent of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The agent “investigated the criminal use of personal identification information that occurred in Jackson County, Florida.”
It states that the accused unlawfully used the personal information of five individuals to submit “fraudulent Constitutional Amendment Petitions for Limited Authorization of Casino Gaming to the Jackson County Supervisor of Elections Office” between November 2021 and December 2021.
How the investigation unfolded
Language in the affidavit suggests the State’s Attorney requested FDLE to investigate suspicious petition forms submitted in Jackson County in late December 2021. In mid-November, the Supervisor of Elections’ office began receiving petition forms from the accused, a paid petition circulator.
After receiving the forms, the Supervisor of Elections staff began identifying discrepancies. This included incorrect birthdates and signatures that did not match the information on file. Additionally, she filed petitions submitted by individuals who allegedly died before the date written on the petitions.
After that, the Jackson County Elections Supervisor contacted some impacted voters. Consequently, several filed complaints against the accused asserting that their identities had been misused.
During the FDLE’s investigation, five voters confirmed that their information was used without permission. Furthermore, they “swore and attested that they never seen [sic]the petition prior to being notified…” by the Supervisor of Elections Office.
How did this happen
According to the affidavit, the accused sat down for two voluntary, but sworn interviews with FDLE. Victory Labs, Inc. hired her in October 2021 after she responded to a Craigslist ad for paid petition circulators. There are no allegations that Victory Labs knew their employees violated any laws.
In the interview, she explained that she enlisted help from family and friends. But the affidavit says she could not provide “locations that she and the helpers went to circulate said petitions.” The accused did recall submitting petitions in Calhoun, Jackson, and Miami-Dade counties. Victory Labs paid her about $7,0000 for her work.
During one of the interviews, the accused reportedly admitted to the FDLE special agent that “she signed the petitions knowing she was committing perjury and submitted the petitions anyway.”
What kind of punishment is the accused facing?
First-degree misdemeanors are punishable by less than a year in prison. Third-degree felonies have a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to five years imprisonment.
How does this affect 2024?
Ultimately, it is not clear how many more, if any, prosecutions there will be in association with the 2022 election in Florida.
The gambling-related ballot measures were among the most expensive campaigns ever ran. Special interest groups fighting over California sports betting dwarfed these numbers. But Florida’s battle established a benchmark.
In other words, gambling companies realize how valuable a piece of the Florida betting market is. As a result, the companies are willing to break the bank to get their way.
On the other hand, these charges highlight that money alone isn’t enough for ballot initiatives to be approved. It’s especially true when facing well-established and resourced shareholders.