BONITA SPRINGS — Stretching the truth may be the norm in political campaigns.
However, a judge recently fined a former Bonita Springs fire commission candidate $1,000 for false statements issued in a 2010 campaign.
Robert Sharkey sent two emails in Aug. 2010 to about 200 people alleging baseless claims of spending abuse by his incumbent opponent, Fire Commissioner Ed FitzGerald, and by the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District.
In one e-mail, Sharkey claimed that FitzGerald, Bonita Fire Chief Phil Kinsey and Assistant Chief Ken Kraft went to Paris, France for a fire prevention seminar funded by taxpayer money. The second claimed FitzGerald was reimbursed for another seminar at Harvard University.
There is no evidence of either claim. FitzGerald took a class at Harvard, but paid for it himself.
A Tallahassee judge ruled July 28, that Sharkey broke Florida election law when he “acted with reckless disregard” in charging false claims against FitzGerald. He directed the $1,000 fine be paid to the Florida Elections Commission.
Florida statute prohibits making “maliciously” false claims about an opponent in an election campaign. Sharkey avoided the maximum fine in this case, $5,000.
“I’m satisfied justice was done,” FitzGerald said on Tuesday. “That’s all. I’m not asking for anything else.”
FitzGerald said the ruling was a statement that false election claims can’t be tolerated.
“Otherwise, how does the voter understand what’s right and what’s wrong?” he asked.
Sharkey declined comment. However, in previous statements to the Daily News, Sharkey said he thought the claims in the emails were accurate when he sent them.
However, Bonita fire officials said Sharkey never made attempts to verify the claims with the department.
After FitzGerald took issue with the emails, Sharkey issued an apology admitting the statements were “erroneous” in September.
According to court documents, Sharkey “got information” of the false claims by another Bonita fire commission candidate and ex-Bonita city councilman, Alex Grantt.
Both Grantt and Sharkey lost their election bids against incumbent commissioners in November.
Court documents suggest Grantt misheard or incorrectly remembered statements made at a Bonita Springs fire commission meeting, then shared them with Sharkey.
However, Judge R. Bruce McKibben wrote in a statement “The allegations are of such a nature that any prudent person would have verified the facts prior to publication, especially if that person was a candidate in the midst of a political campaign.”
Connect with Aaron Hale at /www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale