ORLANDO, Fla. – A campaign consultant said he was hired by several Florida politicians over the past seven years to gather absentee ballots during their elections, a violation of state law.
Ezzie Thomas (search), who has been granted immunity, told prosecutors that he was paid numerous times since 1998 to gather absentee ballots, most recently by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's (search) campaign last year, his attorney said Friday.
Thomas told prosecutors four months ago that he was hired to do similar work for U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (search) when he ran for Orange County chairman in 1998, Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood's 2000 campaign for Orlando mayor, and two other minor campaigns.
Florida made it illegal in 1998 to pay or accept money "for distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, delivering or otherwise physically possessing absentee ballots." The law was passed after the 1997 Miami mayor's race was marred by allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
Dyer, a Democrat, received just over 50 percent of the vote in his re-election last March as Orlando mayor, barely enough to avoid a runoff. His main opponent, Ken Mulvaney, filed a lawsuit after the election seeking to have the results thrown out. The lawsuit remains unresolved.
Dyer and other politicians have never denied hiring Thomas, but campaign finance reports for Dyer's campaign indicate Thomas was paid to perform general "get-out-the-vote" efforts.
Thomas' attorney, Dean Mosley, said Thomas was hired only because of his work with absentee voters.
"His specialty was absentee-ballot work," Mosley said. "It would be logical to conclude he was paid for the work he specializes in."
Dyer's attorney, Robert Levanthal, called Mosley's comments "inappropriate and suspect," saying "people are taking potshots at Mayor Dyer for their own political purposes."
Martinez, a Republican, was traveling in Israel and unavailable for comment, his spokeswoman Kerry Feehery said Saturday.