Had Tom Graney of St. Joe Beach known what two men identifying themselves as investigators with the State Attorney’s Office were inquiring about, he would have told them to “buzz off.”


Had Tom Graney of St. Joe Beach known what two men identifying themselves as investigators with the State Attorney’s Office were inquiring about, he would have told them to “buzz off.”



The investigation spilled to public light on Thursday morning during a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, when Port St. Joe resident Christine McElroy said she had cooperated in the investigation and Commission chair Bill Williams stated several times that he had worn a wire during the investigation.



The allegations of “blackmail” as it was termed during the Commission meeting, “extortion” as it was called in a letter from State Attorney Glenn Hess, apparently originates with a conversation Graney had with Williams in the spring before Williams decided not to seek re-election to the District 3 seat.



Apparently because the State Attorney has reopened the case since Thursday’s meeting based on new “information,” Public Information Officer David Angier said.



Angier reported Friday morning that the file was closed and submitted a letter dated Oct. 16 from Hess to Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent Matthew Herring telling him to close the file. He said staff was trying to locate the file.



By early Friday afternoon, Angier reported back that the investigation was in fact back open based upon information received since Thursday’s meeting.



Angier said no one else with the State Attorney’s Office could comment on the investigation.



Hess’s letter states that while “allegations of extortion pertaining to Gulf County Commissioner Warren Yeager establishes probable cause”, the entire case rested with statements made by Graney to Herring and another agent – neither provided business cards, Graney said – and could not be substantiated because alleged witnesses exercised their rights to refuse to answer questions.



As Graney was the only witness to the allegations that the Political Action Committee Citizens Improving Gulf County had attempted to extort Yeager from the race for the District 5 seat, Hess said the charges could not be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt.



“A prosecutor’s responsibility is to charge crimes when the facts can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hess wrote to Herring. “In this instance the question is whether there is a crime or just dirty politics; reasonable people could well differ.”



Graney believes he is the source of the allegations and believed they stemmed from a conversation he had with Williams concerning campaign strategy. Graney believes Williams recorded the conversation without his knowledge.



Williams acknowledged “wearing a wire” several times during Thursday’s meeting of the BOCC, calling the investigation one involving “blackmail.”



He could not be reached for comment.



Graney said his name shows up because he was one person who talked to investigators.



He told investigators that he had given Williams an idea of the political landscape as the campaign season heated up and talked strategy.



Graney, who is not a member of the PAC, does not know their membership but has worked with PAC president Jim Garth in the past, said the questions investigators asked quickly provided an idea that the conversation with Williams was not confidential.



He told investigators what he had told Williams from what he had learned from Garth; that the PAC would be campaigning against incumbents and there was ammunition.



“I just wanted to let him know what was out there,” Graney said. “That is what I told the investigators. They said that it could be interpreted as a threat. I said I don’t think so and I was sure Williams and Yeager didn’t see it as a threat.”



From Graney investigators contacted a number of other individuals, though McElroy is the only other person known to have spoken to investigators, acknowledging she had met with investigators several times.



Graney said he offered investigators a sit down with Graney and Garth but the meeting never happened.



The investigation then “died” Graney said for a time before coming back to life shortly after Bryan won the Republican primary in August.



Graney, who is now consulting for Bryan, who also came into criticism from McElroy for the number of campaign donations Bryan had received from PAC members, said had he known the intent, the investigation would not have started.



“If I had any idea what they were talking about I would have told them to buzz off,” Graney said. “I got myself bush-whacked by Williams. This thing was a comedy routine. It was Keystone Kops. This is silliness.”



Graney said he would like to know if Williams was authorized by the State Attorney to record their conversation. If not, he said, it is illegal for an individual to record any conversation without the other person’s knowledge.



He said he had no clue Williams, a friend for more than a decade, was recording the campaign discussion.