Who is Alfie Oakes? What to know about the Naples businessman suing the Collier County School Board

Samantha Neely
Fort Myers News-Press

For those who live in Naples, the name Alfie Oakes rings a never-ending bell.

And now the prominent businessman is quickly back in the limelight.

Instead of opening a new business or making a controversial statement, it's for suing the Collier County School Board over its recent superintendent search, claiming the board and its search firm violated Florida's Sunshine Law.

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Who is Alfie Oakes?

Francis Alfie Oakes, 54, is a prominent Naples businessman and grocer who owns Oakes Farms, Seed to Table, Oakes Farm Market, and Food & Thought. 

His operations include a more than 1,400-acre farm and a fleet of trucks and drivers that distribute his produce across the country, according to his website.

Oakes is also a high-profile Republican supporter who has made controversial comments regarding the pandemic and anti-racism movements.

What has Oakes said about the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement?

Oakes came under fire in May 2020 for a Facebook post in which he called COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement hoaxes and characterized George Floyd as a "disgraceful career criminal." 

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What was Alfie Oakes’ lawsuit against Collier County?

Oakes filed several pieces of litigation over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, he filed a federal lawsuit challenging Collier County’s mask order. A federal judge tossed that lawsuit out in 2021.  

How did the school boards react to Oakes's comments?

Following his Facebook post, the CCPS board said it would do business elsewhere for the summer after a petition went up calling for the school districts in Lee and Collier counties to cancel their contracts with Oakes. 

Lee County District Schools ended up ending their multi-million dollar contract with Oakes.

Oakes filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Lee County School Board for the canceled contract, citing it violated Oakes’ freedom of speech rights by terminating a $6 million contract to provide fresh produce for the schools. In 2021, a judge ruled the case can go forward.

When was Oakes arrested?

Oakes was arrested at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood last year after an altercation.

According to reports, he was attempting to cash in casino chips but he refused to provide identification, a Seminole Police Department spokesperson said. 

"(Oakes) allegedly attempted to approach security staff in an aggressive manner," Seminole Police spokesperson Gary Bitner told the Naples Daily News back in May 2022. "While being handcuffed, he allegedly tensed and pulled away from officers."

He was charged with disorderly conduct and booked into the Broward County Jail. He wasn't prosecuted and the case was disposed of on August 2022.

What is going on now with Oakes and the Collier County Public School Board?

Oakes is now suing the Collier County School Board over its recent superintendent search, claiming the board and their search firm violated Florida's Sunshine Law.

The Collier County School Board in a 3-2 vote selected Leslie Ricciardelli earlier this month as the district's superintendent after she had been serving as interim superintendent.

In his lawsuit, which was filed May 17 with the Collier County Circuit Court, Oakes claims that the school board violated the Sunshine Law by allowing search firm Hazard Young Atea Associates to select 10 candidates out of 45 applicants privately, without public notice, public comment, or minutes.

How does Sunshine Law fit into Oakes' lawsuit?

The Sunshine Law is a Florida law that requires all meetings of an agency, including school boards, to be open to the public. The law extends to all documents or other materials made or received in connection to the agency.

Violations of the Sunshine Law can result in removal from office, noncriminal infractions, and criminal penalties.

Oakes claims the selection of Ricciardelli as the next superintendent of Collier County Schools should be void due to the alleged violation of the Sunshine Law and he's asking the board to temporarily stop the board from entering into a contract with Ricciardelli until they go through the selection process again with the 45 original applicants in public meetings.

Has Oakes' controversial comments and behavior affected his businesses?

Despite his actions and comments, his grocery stores and markets have maintained a following within the community.

Oakes Farms Seed to Table Market owner Alfie Oakes, left, speaks to his supporters during a counter protest at his store on Saturday, June 13, 2020. A protest was sparked by an incendiary Facebook post by Oakes about COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, and was met by a counter protest organized by Oakes.

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The Seed to Table Market still remains a heavily trafficked grocery store since its opening in 2019. The store is known for luxuries including valet parking, a children’s play area, and adult beverages.