Witness comes forward in Ivey election controversy as candidates call for investigation
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A witness has come forward to back up claims from one of two Brevard County candidates who said Sheriff Wayne Ivey tried to use offers of political jobs worth tens of thousands of dollars a year to get them to drop out of the election.
The account from West Melbourne City Councilman John Dittmore — a cousin and campaign advisor to District 2 School Board candidate Shawn Overdorf — adds additional details to the allegations leveled last month by Overdorf and District 2 County Commission candidate Chris Hattaway.
The corroborating testimony comes as Overdorf and Hattaway are now calling for an investigation by state and federal authorities into their claims of electoral interference.
Legal experts have told FLORIDA TODAY the offers could constitute felony violations of the state elections code and, in some of the cases, felony bribery.
Overdorf came forward alongside Hattaway last month, alleging Ivey offered them jobs as legislative aides in the future commission office of former State Rep. Tom Goodson, Hattaway's opponent and the sheriff's endorsed candidate for County Commission District 2, in exchange for dropping out of the race and backing the sheriff's candidates.
They were joined last week by Kimberly Musselman, a respected assistant state attorney running for county judge, who said Ivey offered to help her get elected or appointed as State Attorney for the 18th Judicial Circuit if she dropped out the race against his endorsed candidate, Renee Torpy.
Ivey supporters have called the allegations of the three candidates into question, saying it smacked of a scheme to help their campaigns against tough opponents because it was their word against the sheriff's.
Brevard: Election issues: Two candidates say Sheriff Ivey tried to get them to drop out, offered jobs in exchange
Now Dittmore, a U.S. Navy veteran and, like Overdorf, a retired police officer of 20 years from Ohio and a Republican, told FLORIDA TODAY he was with Overdorf the morning of June 16 when Overdorf first got the offer from Ivey, and was on the phone when Overdorf called back to decline. Dittmore said Overdorf had placed the return call on speakerphone with Ivey's knowledge.
At one point during the call, according to Dittmore, when Overdorf began to turn down the offer, the sheriff interrupted to ask what it would take to get him out of the race. "If you don't want this job, do you want something else? What is it we could do for you?'" Dittmore recounted.
The offers "rubbed me the wrong way," Dittmore said. "He just wanted him (Overdorf) out of the race."
Dittmore also shared with FLORIDA TODAY additional details of Ivey's initial call to the School Board candidate, which Overdorf has so far declined to give publicly.
Among them, Dittmore said Overdorf told him Ivey paused the call to contact Goodson and "get the numbers" on salary for the position
"Wayne tells Shawn, 'Hold on, let me call Goodson and get the numbers for you and let me call you back,'" Dittmore said, recounting what Overdorf told him. "So he calls Goodson — so he (Ivey) says — and calls back and said, 'It's not $45 to $50,000, it's $55,000 a year.'"
Dittmore said he didn't know whether Ivey actually called Goodson or only told Overdorf he had.
More: Torres: Three allegations of election meddling a bad look for Sheriff Ivey | Opinion
Overdorf on Friday confirmed Dittmore's account of the calls. "Yeah, that was the conversation. That was pretty much it," he said.
Goodson did not return a voicemail seeking comment Friday. He has previously said he had no knowledge of the alleged offers to Overdorf and Hattaway, and said the sheriff did not have his permission to make offers on his behalf.
Ivey also did not respond to a request for comment. The sheriff has so far ignored all of FLORIDA TODAY's requests to speak about the allegations.
His only public reference was on an Aug. 5 episode of the conservative talk radio show "Bill Mick Live," during which Ivey told Mick he does not respond to the "garbage ... spewed" by the paper about him.
"We don't even blink at them," Ivey said. "They're nothing but a pebble in my shoe."
Ivey declined to comment to other media outlets this week that picked up the FLORIDA TODAY story, including Spectrum News 13 in Orlando and the Associated Press.
Candidates call for investigation
Overdorf and Hattaway called for an official investigation into the allegations this week as media coverage of the controversy ballooned following the Associated Press article.
Approached by reporters, Hattaway and Overdorf said they would like to see the alleged incidents investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the FBI.
"Being a law enforcement officer, when a crime is reported to us, or something that sounds like it meets the requirement of a crime, the authority responsible for investigating it should investigate it," Hattaway, a community engagement officer in the Cocoa Police Department, told FLORIDA TODAY Thursday.
Related: Candidates hold news conference about alleged job offers from sheriff if they agreed to leave races
Hattaway and Overdorf have previously said they weren't certain the alleged actions were illegal and said they had no plans to file official complaints. But Overdorf said Thursday that Musselman's decision to speak out about her own experience caused him to rethink that.
"It's three people that have come forward now," he said. "I'm sure there's more to this that we don't even know about."
Asked whether it has opened an investigation into the claims, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office Middle District of Florida told FLORIDA TODAY Friday the agency "does not wish to comment."
More electoral interference?
The possibility of wider efforts to force candidates out of Brevard electoral races emerged Thursday, when Ivey's endorsed candidate for the County Court Group 4 race said in a livestream, hosted by Palm Bay Live, that she had faced her own pressures not to run for a local judgeship.
The admission came during a candidate panel, when the moderator asked her to weigh in on Musselman's claims of efforts to keep her out of the county judge race. Torpy said she "had no idea" what happened to Musselman, then added: "I was approached on a different race, but not on this race, not to run."
When FLORIDA TODAY followed up with her Friday, Torpy, an attorney with Serene Harbor domestic violence center in Melbourne, said she was busy in court and would only accept questions in writing. She wanted the communications copied to Lindsey Deaton, Ivey's longtime personal assistant and executive director of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office Charity, who is helping Torpy with her campaign.
In the email exchanges, Torpy told FLORIDA TODAY she had once been approached on behalf of a "female constitutional officer" in the county via a "mutual friend," neither of whom she identified. She said the "mutual friend," told her the official would not support her if she entered a "recent" prior judicial race.
"The mutual friend shared with me that they were calling on her behalf and told me that the female constitutional officer had nothing against me, however, I needed to not enter the race," Torpy said via email Friday. "The mutual friend told me that the female constitutional officer would not support me in that race but would support me in a future race."
Torpy said she decided not to run for that position, but said the endorsement "was not part of the decision process." The official, she added, was now supporting one of her opponents.
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Torpy did not answer questions about the specific race she was approached about or the identities of the two individuals involved. Asked by a reporter whether Ivey was the "mutual friend," Torpy said Ivey played no role in the incident.
"As much as you would like for it to be, no the mutual friend was not Sheriff Ivey as he had absolutely nothing to do with it," she wrote.
In earlier interviews, Musselman told FLORIDA TODAY that Ivey said during a May 20 lunch meeting with her to discuss his endorsement he was supporting Torpy because he had promised Torpy his endorsement if she decided not to run in another race.
"He picked (Torpy) because he didn't pick her in some other race and told her he would support her in the next race," Musselman recalled, summarizing the conversation.
Musselman said she judged that he was referring to two circuit judge races, in which Ivey had previously endorsed Michelle Studstill and Scott Blaue. Ivey didn't deny he was referring to the circuit judge races when she asked why he felt Torpy posed a threat to the two high-powered Brevard private attorneys, Musselman said.
"I said, 'What are you so afraid of? They have all the money, all the support from the constitutional officers,'" Musselman said.
More: Wheel of Fugitive? Sheriff Ivey's signature Facebook 'show' features non-fugitives
After learning about Torpy's claims, the fourth person to allege influence peddling by Brevard elected officials in as many weeks, Hattaway on Saturday said the stories now emerging were a warning bell for the state of politics in the county.
"I don't think the country or Brevard County can continue to allow this without there being an investigation. It completely undermines all the processes that makes the United States the amazing country that it is," Hattaway said.
"The whole process loses credibility if it's not investigated, and I think the people are now wanting to see that on every level because they're tired of corrupt politics."
Eric Rogers is a watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Rogers at 321-271-9291 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @EricRogersFT.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Witness supports candidate claim of Brevard sheriff's election meddling