Family members of a Republican congressional nominee in South Florida are mourning the death of a man they described as a loving father who wrestled with addiction.
Newly released police and autopsy records show he died of a fentanyl and cocaine overdose after relapsing into using drugs.
“I just love that boy, and I’m so sorry I lost him,” said Jeffrey Mariner, father of Jason Mariner of Loxahatchee. “I tried so hard.” Jason Mariner would have turned 38 earlier this month.
Mariner won the two-person GOP Primary in November 2021 — six months after his divorce was finalized — with 58% of the vote in the heavily Democratic 20th Congressional District, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Mariner received close to 11,000 votes, badly losing the special election in January 2022 to replace incumbent Rep. Alcee Hastings who had died. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won that race with around 45,000 votes, beating Mariner by 59 percentage points. She was re-elected to her seat last year.
Mariner was found dead the afternoon of July 4 in a locked bedroom in his father’s home in Port St. Lucie, according to police. His father told police that Mariner was a recovering heroin and opiate addict who had been sober for 90 days and had complained of back pain and nausea the night before. Details of his death — which have not previously been reported — were described in newly released police records.
Police said they found prescription bottles, loose pills, and testosterone vials with syringes in the bedroom.
A recently released autopsy report found that Mariner had died from an accidental overdose of cocaine and fentanyl, just after he had finished treatment at a rehabilitation center. Police said Mariner had been excited just before he died because, a day earlier, he had learned he was going to see his children for the first time in a long time. He and his ex-wife — who cited concerns for the kids’ safety over Mariner’s recent drug relapse — had been fighting over custody issues in court for months.
Mariner’s congressional campaign made national headlines because he was a felon who did not go through Florida’s process to restore his civil rights after his imprisonment. That step is required under Florida law for a candidate to hold political office, although the U.S. Constitution does not bar felons from serving in Congress. No one formally challenged Mariner’s eligibility, so the question remains unresolved by the courts or Florida’s Division of Elections.
Mariner was an advertising executive and self-described “America First” conservative candidate who had served roughly two years total in the Palm Beach County Jail during parts of 2007 and 2012 on charges that included felony theft, burglary, cocaine possession, obstruction and violently resisting arrest. He was open during his campaign about his criminal past, telling voters, “Before running for Congress, I ran from the law.” He also promised he would be tough on crime.
Mariner’s ex-wife, Charlene Mariner, described him as a loving father and said he “always cherished his children as the best part of his life.”
Mariner’s father, Jeffrey, said his son was a good person and his crimes were the result of his drug addiction. He said his son was trying to turn his life around when he ran for Congress.
“He really wanted to make a difference in the world,” he said.
Alexa Herrera reports. This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at [email protected]. You can donate to support our students here.