An investigation by the office of State Attorney Glenn Hess into extortion charges against a local political action committee and its president remains “under review” said David Angier, public information officer for Hess’s office.
“It is still considered an open investigation,” Angier wrote in an email and therefore the file is not available to the public.
This newspaper has asserted that as the original file was closed Oct. 16, that file should be public record. A formal public record request for the file was turned down, Angier wrote, due to the “ongoing review.”
Hess closed the investigation by letter to Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigator Matthew Herring on Oct. 16. In his letter, Hess wrote that people would disagree as to whether the alleged charges of extortion were anything more than dirty politics not rising to the level of criminality.
“A prosecutor’s responsibility is to charge crimes when the facts can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hess wrote. “In this instance the question is whether there was a crime or just dirty politics. Reasonable people could well differ.”
However, the case was reported by Angier to be reopened after an Oct. 25 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners during which a private citizen and former Commission chair Bill Williams each acknowledged the investigation.
The citizen stated she had met with investigators on three to four occasions and Williams said that he had “worn a wire” as part of an investigation into whether actions by Citizens for Improving Gulf County, a local PAC founded earlier this year, amounted to an attempt to “blackmail” – as it was expressed at least five times by Williams during the Oct. 25 BOCC meeting – County Commissioner Warren Yeager out of the District 5 race.
Yeager was re-elected.
Angier communicated after the Oct. 25 BOCC meeting that the State Attorney’s Office had reopened the case based on “new information.”
In addition to Williams and the private citizen, the only person known to have spoken with investigators is St. Joe Beach resident Tom Graney. His is the only name that appears in the letter from Hess.
Graney said he believes that he is the source of any conversation recorded by Williams.
Graney, who said he considered Williams a friend and was a close political supporter of Williams since he first ran for the District 3 BOCC seat in 2004, said he had spoken at length with Williams about the local political landscape as Williams was trying to decide to seek re-election.
“I just wanted to tell him what was out there,” Graney said.
Graney said he related some of the information he knew to be in the public forum and acknowledged to Williams that the PAC was opposing the re-election of all BOCC incumbents.
Later Herring and another investigator, neither would provide business cards after Graney asked for them, arrived at Graney’s home and Graney said he was happy to speak to them and had nothing to hide.
He said it quickly become clear as the investigators asked questions that the foundation for their questions came from his conversation with Williams.
Graney labeled the entire exercise “silliness.”
“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.”
From the time word of the investigation became public, Graney has said he would like to know what probable cause was provided to fuel the investigation and whether Williams was authorized to record their conversation and based on what probable cause.