St. Lucie County, FL 2020 Sheriff’s Race: Ghost Candidate Corruption?

  • by:
  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 12/07/2023

Rumblings of corruption are getting louder in St. Lucie County, Florida surrounding the 2020 Sheriff's election. In a year with so much at stake nationally, the local Sheriff's election in November 2020 came and went with little press except for the obligatory candidate profiles and reviews by local mainstream news establishments. Yet, with a $152,130 annual salary and nearly $87.5 million budget to oversee, many believe it's worth taking a closer look at the campaign that led to Ken Mascara being reelected Sheriff of St. Lucie County for the sixth consecutive term.

Initially, the race was squared to be a rematch of the 2016 Democratic Primary, pitting entrenched Democratic incumbent St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara against Former State Trooper Rich Williams, a Democrat. During the 2020 election cycle, Williams had a #walkaway epiphany and changed his party from Democrat to Republican. As Williams pointed out, he was already a strong advocate for individual liberty, Constitutional Carry, and pro-life. The switch seemed to make sense—many were confused why he was a Democrat in the first place. 

With Williams' change in party, it seemed inevitable the St. Lucie County Sheriff race was moving toward a November general election between incumbent Mascara and challenger Williams. That is until late May of 2020 when a former St. Lucie County Deputy with a less than stellar career record emerged out of nowhere. Republican Kevin Carter's sudden appearance in the 2020 race for County Sheriff, a political outsider, shook up the election landscape. Becoming an "official candidate" in the race on June 10th, Carter said of his candidacy:

"I have decided to come out of retirement and run for Sheriff of St. Lucie County because there is too much at stake. At a time when law enforcement around our great nation is under attack, my opponent in the Republican primary—a disgraced former trooper who has flip-flopped as a democrat, independent and republican—cannot be given the chance to serve in such a critical and important position. His record speaks for itself, and I cannot stand idly by and allow such a candidate to ever step foot into our respected and honorable Sheriff's Office.

As a true Republican, I see the good work being done across our state and our nation by our great Governor and President and hope to bring that same level of good work and change to make our local community greater, stronger, and safer."

sheriff Carter and Dzadovsky

sheriff Carter's contribution to Mascara campaign

Previously working under Mascara's command for years, Carter had been a ghost in political and law enforcement circles in St. Lucie County since his retirement from the Sheriff's Office in 2012 after 25 years of service. Most locals only knew him as a semi-permanent decoration on the barstools at his local watering hole. What prompted him to run for Sheriff unexpectedly? 

Digging deeper, clues began popping up when searching through public records, Facebook posts, and learning who was behind what. Interestingly, records disclosed that Kevin Carter had donated to Ken Mascara's campaign for reelection in 2016. That in and of itself is not a cause for alarm. After all, Carter held Mascara in high regard, commenting in Aug. 2020—after beating Williams in the primary—that his former boss was a "great guy" and would be "a hard opponent" to beat. 

However, once it was revealed that Carter donated to Ken Mascara's reelection campaign in 2020—the same election cycle he ran as Mascara's opponent—suspicions around his motive became more relevant. Additionally, by cross-referencing donor roles with Sunbiz and County property records, many of the donors to the Kevin Carter campaign were previous donors to Mascara, using the opposite of their business or personal names and addresses.

sheriff Carter's contribution to Mascara campaign

Adding to the bafflement, Carter's campaign manager was none other than St. Lucie County Sheriff's Deputy, Captain Bill Hardman (who donated $1,000 to Mascara's campaign in 2018). Conceivably Hardman—who worked for Mascara—and Carter were close friends and coworkers. Their political partnership might make sense, except that Mascara had made clear within his department that he would allow no one under his command to campaign against him. This directive was reinforced when Mascara fired Rich Williams—a twenty-three-year, award-winning Volunteer Tactical Flight Officer for the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit—after Williams announced his intentions to run against him for Sheriff. 

Aware of Mascara's directive, it appears illogical that Hardman, a member of Mascara's Command Staff, would be permitted to operate as the right-hand man for the campaign attempting to unseat him as the Sheriff. It became increasingly apparent that perhaps something nefarious was taking place.

Looking back to June of 2020, Rich Williams formally requested the St. Lucie County Republican Executive Committee (REC) (of which Williams was a Precinct Committeeman) suspend the party rules prohibiting endorsement of one candidate over the other in a contested primary election. Williams submitted this request directly to then St. Lucie County GOP Chairman Mark Gotz. When doing so, Williams presented the public record of Carter's campaign contributions to Mascara and of Hardman's involvement in both the Carter campaign and the Mascara administration. He also highlighted Carter's solid friendship and drinking relationship with St. Lucie County Democratic Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky—who is known in the County to be a fervent supporter of Mascara. In his request to Gotz, Williams asked:

" … are we going to allow our Republican primary election to be manipulated by a proxy for the entrenched Democratic incumbent—or will we take a stand and endorse the candidate that stands for Limited Government, individual Liberty, and the Constitution as the supreme law of the land?"

Carter and Dzadovsky at a Hockey Game

Republican meeting with Williams being sworn in by Chair, Mark Gotz

Shortly after that, Gotz allowed a vote to determine if the St. Lucie County Republican Party should endorse Williams' candidacy. However, instead of using the established 60% vote of the entire REC—or 2/3 vote of those present at the meeting at which a quorum is met—Gotz specified that Williams needed a 60% vote of the quorum to determine if a vote regarding endorsement would be taken as well as a 75% vote in favor of endorsement. Subsequently, only 72% of the party voted in favor of endorsing Williams' candidacy. With that in mind, the Republican Party of St. Lucie County effectively condoned the candidacy of a person who had no intention of becoming the St. Lucie County Sheriff.

Additionally, there are credible allegations that campaigners holding signs for Mascara at polling sites were also holding signs for Carter. This egregious behavior by the Sheriff's Department is apparently under investigation, as these workers admitted that members of the Mascara campaign were paying them cash. It was also discovered that Carter, who had less than 90 days to campaign for the primary after entering the race, spent over 60 days in Pennsylvania leading up to the Primary election.

Carter and Dzadovsky

Moreover, it has also come to light through St. Lucie County GOP Executive Committee Leadership, that former Chairman Mark Gotz and St. Lucie County Republican Executive State Committeewoman Mary Ann Russell were allegedly closely involved in the plot to plant ghost candidate Kevin Carter as the Republican nominee for St. Lucie County Sheriff in 2020—in an effort to guarantee the reelection of Ken Mascara to a sixth term. Apparently, both Gotz and Russell were fully aware Carter was not a viable candidate, as he had no intention of ever being Sheriff of St. Lucie County.

Many in Law Enforcement in St. Lucie County and the surrounding areas assert that Republican candidate Richard Del Toro (Assistant Port St. Lucie Chief of Police) and Democratic candidate Brian Hester (Chief Deputy with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office) have been handpicked as successors by Mascara himself (who has endorsed Hester) in an effort to protect Mascara's "legacy." In addition, it has come to light that Mascara—despite being an elected Constitutional officer in St. Lucie County—took up residence for a period of time in Indian River County, Florida, before recently relocating his residence to the state of Pennsylvania.

Given the recent ghost candidate schemes in the Florida Senate and ahead of the vote in the Florida Legislature on Election reform, it makes sense that State Representative Toby Overdorf's office is looking into their very own ghost candidate scheme from the 2020 election.

Requests for comment to the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, the Del Toro campaign, the Hester campaign, the St. Lucie County GOP, and State Representative Toby Overdorf's office have not been returned as of publication.

*updated to reflect Mascara's endorsement of Hester as his successor.

Get the latest news delivered daily!

We will send you breaking news right to your inbox

© 2024 UncoverDC