Despite numerous investigations into his own residency claims, Rep. Perry E. Thurston, Jr.(D-Fort Lauderdale) is attacking the residency of his challenger in the Florida Attorney General race. On Friday, Thurston questioned whether George Sheldon should remain in the race to be the Democrat challenger to Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Florida Constitution requires Attorney General candidates to reside in the state for the preceding seven years. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Thurston alleges Sheldon’s previous position with the U.S Department of Health and Human Services disqualifies him from the race. “For him to stay in the race, he has to satisfy the legal requirement of being a resident,” said Thurston. “The residency issue is an issue, based on my reading of the Constitution. I think it raises some serious questions.”
Last April, an investigation showed Perry Thurston appeared to violate Section 15, Article III of The Florida Constitution which requires state legislators to live in the districts they represent. Thurston represents House District 94. Records from the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office show Thurston and his wife own a two-story home in Florida House District 99.
A review of Broward County Supervisor Of Elections (SOE) records show Thurston registered to vote at the home of Frances Merricks, a 71-year-old Lauderhill woman and her son Earl. The Merricks home is located in district 94.
According to the Broward County Clerk of Courts, Thurston provided legal representation for Earl Merricks, Jr. when he was charged with multiple felonies including burglary, possession of cocaine, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
THURSTON”S HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION VIOLATION
In a certified letter dated April 12, 2013 from Ronald J. Cacciatore, BCPA Director of Professional Standards & Compliance , Thurston was informed he could no longer claim a homestead tax exemption for his Plantation home. “[BCPA] has determined you claimed or improperly retained tax exemption(s) for which you were not entitled under Florida law as of the year 2013,” Cacciatore wrote. “In violation of the law, you failed to notify us of the applicable changes.”
Under Florida law, Section 196.011 (9) (a) it is “the duty of the owner” to notify the Property Appraiser “promptly whenever the use of the property or the status or condition of the owner changes.” BCPA determined Thurston’s drivers license, vehicle registration, and voter registration are issued to the District 94 address in Lauderhill.
FLORIDA BAR LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO THURSTON
In June 2013, the Florida bar opened an investigation into Thurston over the residency claims. John B. Thompson of Coral Gables filed a formal sworn complaint which detailed, “Thurston’s ‘alleged act of dishonesty’ violates Florida Bar rule 4-8.4(c). The rule, which governs professional conduct, states a lawyer shall not ‘engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, except that it shall not be professional misconduct for a lawyer for a criminal law enforcement agency or regulatory agency to advise others about or to supervise another in an undercover investigation, unless prohibited by law or rule, and it shall not be professional misconduct for a lawyer employed in a capacity other than as a lawyer by a criminal law enforcement agency or regulatory agency to participate in an undercover investigation, unless prohibited by law or rule.’” The Florida Bar has yet to disclose the results of its investigation.
TELEVISION REPORTER CATCHES THURSTON LIVING OUTSIDE DISTRICT
Last September, a local television reporter caught Thurston living at his Plantation home. Thurston admitted he lives outside his House district “when I want to.” In the Local 10 video, Bob Norman captures Thurston unloading his vehicle at the Plantation home. When asked, “Are you living here, Perry?” Thurston responds, “When I want to.” When asked how often he “wants to” live outside his district. Thurston replies, “Occasionally.”
RESIDENCY SCOFFLAWS SHARE TIES TO LOBBYIST
Broward lobbyist Judy Stern has been one of Thurston’s closest advisers. Campaign records show Perry E. Thurston, Jr. paid Judy Stern $3,060.98 as a consultant for his 2012 campaign. Other Stern clients have similar residency issues. Rep. Joseph Gibbons (D-Hallandale Beach) appears to live with his wife and children in the family’s Jacksonville home rather than in South Florida District 100. Gibbons claims he lives in Hallandale, while his wife lives in Lakeland. He says his young twins live in Jacksonville. Gibbons in currently running for a seat on the Broward County Commission.
Stern’s daughter, Florida Elections Commissioner Barbra Stern (D)brought pressure on government officials who investigated residency claims against Thurston and Gibbons. Stern sent an email to Broward County government officials questioning their removal of homestead tax exemptions for clients of her lobbyist mother. In a two-page email obtained by Media Trackers Florida, Stern questioned whether Lori Parrish, the Broward County Property Appraiser, had the legal authority to remove Gibbon’s homestead tax exemption. In addition to seeking documents from the Gibbons investigation, Stern asked for all documents regarding BCPA investigations of Thurston.
Records and video show Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) appears to live in a million-dollar equestrian estate she owns with her husband in posh Boca Raton outside her Florida Senate district. Sachs claimed to fulfill her legal residency requirement by renting a small apartment from Judith Stern and Barbra Stern. She now claims to be living in a small Delray Beach condominium.