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Byron Donalds

2020

Former Collier County School Board member files ethical complaint against Byron Donalds

Kelly Lichter said Congress candidate concealed arrests before landing FSW appointment.

A former Collier County School Board member filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Byron Donalds.

Kelly Lichter in the complaint says Donalds, now a candidate for Congress, lied about his arrest record when he applied for multiple appointments and licenses.

“Mr. Donalds has falsely and criminally completed regulatory applications by not disclosing either the sealed charge for receiving bribes or the dismissed charge for distributing marijuana,” Lichter writes in a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The complaint, filed on July 7, makes note of past charges that have been highlighted in a recent attack ad by a super PAC. Those include a 1997 misdemeanor charge for distributing marijuana dismissed as part of a diversion agreement, and a 2000 arrest for receiving bribes.

Donalds now serves as a state Representative for House District 80. Notably, he launched his campaign for federal office with a video presenting his own criminal history as part of a redemption arc. He also addressed the issue head-on as recently as Tuesday, at a press conference announcing the endorsement of evangelical group Florida Family Action.

“This baseless and frivolous complaint is another attempt by my opponents and their allies to misrepresent the facts and try to destroy my good reputation built over 20 years in SWFL,” Donalds said to Florida Politics after the complaint was reported. “My record was expunged by a judge more than a decade ago. I have always disclosed it when required to by law.

“Mrs. Lichter is lying. I disclosed, as required by Florida law, to the board of Mason Classical Academy and to the Collier County School Board. She was present at that meeting. She could have filed this complaint at any time over the last six years. This is clearly motivated by my rise in the polls.”

But Lichter said the Naples Republican hasn’t always been so forthcoming about his past. She said past charges were not disclosed when he applied to serve on the board of trustees for Florida SouthWestern State College, when he applied to the Collier County schools for a board position with the Mason Classical Academy, and when he applied with both the Financial Industry Regulator Authority and Florida Department of Financial Affairs for a license to sell securities.

Lichter’s complaint includes parts of his application to the Department of Education for the FSW trustee post. The form includes a question whether the applicant has ever been “arrested, charged, or indicted for violation of any federal, state, county, or municipal law, regulation, or ordinance.” A box is filled by ‘No.’

Another document included is a U4 form submitted to the federal authorities regarding his professional license. There, applicants are asked if they have ever been convicted or pled guilty to a felony, or if they have been charged. The answer bubbles on the form appear to have been left blank.

Lichter also writes in the complaint that before being appointed to a charter school board position, Donalds was required to disclose any criminal history to the Collier County School Board, but he never did.

“Mr. Donalds has expressed a continuing pattern of untruthfulness wherein has intentionally, willingly and voluntarily failed to disclose his criminal background in order to mislead governing authorities to unwittingly grant him the position he sought on the board of the public charter school,” Lichter writes.

She also notes that Donalds wife, Erika, served on the School Board at the time, alongside Lichter. As a board member, Erika Donalds “certainly may have assisted, abetted him in ensconsing his criminal past.

“In addition, she potentially misused her public office to help conceal her husband’s criminal background from coming to light before the board,” Lichter writes.

Notably, Lichter founded the Mason Classical Academy, which was named for her father Donald Mason, with the help of political ally Donalds. But Lichter since had a public falling out with the Donalds regarding the school.

Donalds’ crimes, Lichter writes in her complaint, are not simply ethical lapses but “chronic perjury and crimes of moral turpitude,” matters which put other officials in Florida under criminal investigation.”

Donalds is currently one of nine Republicans running in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. A recent St. Pete Polls survey found him in second place within the margin of error of frontrunner Casey Askar.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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