ORLANDO, Fla. – Mayor Buddy Dyer (search), a judge and two campaign workers surrendered Friday on a felony charge of paying for the collection of absentee ballots in last year's election.
Dyer, Judge Alan Apte (search) and Dyer's campaign manager Patti Sharp (search) declined comment to reporters as they left the Orange County Jail after booking. An attorney for Ezzie Thomas (search), a campaign consultant to Dyer and Apte, said only that Thomas' indictment doesn't guarantee he will prosecuted.
The indictments had been issued a day earlier by a grand jury that was looking at whether Thomas had illegally collected absentee ballots in predominantly black neighborhoods before the March 2004 election.
Thomas was hired by Dyer's campaigns for state attorney general and Orlando mayor for get-out-the-vote activities. Thomas also has worked for some of central Florida's most prominent politicians, including Sen. Mel Martinez when he was a local county official, and Secretary of State Glenda Hood (search) when she was mayor.
Dyer has said he signed checks and approved invoices worth about $10,000 for Thomas during his campaign. The documents do not say what Thomas was being paid to do, and Dyer has said he didn't know, either.
Earlier this year, Dyer testified in a separate civil lawsuit deposition that he was not involved in the field work for his re-election campaign.
That suit was brought by the mayoral runner-up, Ken Mulvaney, who wanted the election thrown out. Dyer won re-election by nearly 5,000 votes but cleared the threshold that triggers a runoff by only 234.
"I was mayor. I spent most of my time being mayor," Dyer said in the deposition. "I spent very little time actually on the campaign."
The four were charged with violating a state law enacted after Miami's 1998 mayoral election was thrown out because of fraud committed in the collection of absentee ballots.
The charge, providing pecuniary gain for absentee ballot possession or collection, is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Under Florida law, public officials charged with a felony are usually suspended by the governor until their case is decided and are removed if convicted. Gov. Jeb Bush (search) is reviewing the charges against Dyer and Apte, but has not made a decision, spokesman Jacob DiPietre said.