State finds no crime in Riviera vote

RIVIERA BEACH A state probe found no criminal wrongdoing took place during the March election, in which ousted Mayor Michael Brown claimed newly elected Mayor Thomas Masters used illegally obtained absentee ballots.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement made its conclusion after interviewing voters, former City Council Chairwoman Ann Iles, City Clerk Carrie Ward and county Elections Supervisor Arthur Anderson. Neither Masters nor Brown were interviewed.

Mayor Thomas Masters

Although some residents received absentee ballots without asking for them, the election irregularities didn't rise to a criminal level or keep people from voting, the FDLE concluded.

"Based upon sworn statements provided by witnesses, and the documents provided by the City Clerk and the Supervisor of Elections Office, there is no evidence to indicate that any criminal statues were violated," wrote Mark Perez, chief inspector of the FDLE's office of executive investigations.

However, the investigation found that at least one felon "may have obtained and cast an absentee ballot" in the March election.

The probe stemmed from Brown's allegations that Masters illegally obtained absentee ballots and distributed them throughout Riviera Beach. Brown, who initially made his claims to the Florida Division of Elections in Tallahassee, further alleged that Masters campaign manager Richard Giorgio got the ballots because he was friendly with the elections staff after working as a consultant for Anderson.

The Division of Elections, which doesn't conduct criminal investigations, passed Brown's complaint to the FDLE. The division also will close its case now that the FDLE has finished its investigation, division spokesman Sterling Ivy said.

Masters said it was unfortunate that taxpayer money was spent on an investigation that had no basis.

"We won this election fair and square," said Masters, bishop and pastor of New Macedonia Baptist Church in Riviera Beach. "I want to wish the former mayor well. I hope and pray he can accept these findings as unbiased."

Giorgio said Friday that the FDLE investigation vindicates his consulting firm and the Masters campaign.

Brown, meanwhile, believes the investigation supported many of his allegations.

The report proved that voters who did not request absentee ballots received them, especially after being visited by Masters or his campaign workers.

"How they concluded that no laws were broken I don't know," said Brown, who was unseated after serving as mayor for eight years. "I took my allegations to the proper authorities. That's where it ends for me. I don't plan to file any more complaints with anyone."