Florida lawmakers must live in their districts; this Democratic Rep. hasn’t always reported living there

Bruce Antone
Lawmakers can be removed from office for violations and even can be prosecuted criminally for misrepresenting where they live.

A Democratic lawmaker in Orlando elected seven times to the state House in Florida has listed his home addresses on official paperwork outside the legislative districts where he has been elected, according to a review of campaign filings, financial reports, property listings and voter registration records over two decades.

The discovery raises questions about whether Rep. Bruce Hadley Antone was legally eligible to hold office.

When a reporter presented Antone recently with evidence that the address he provided to state officials may make him ineligible for office for House District 41 in Orlando and could make him ineligible to serve again if he wins the November election, Antone changed his residential address the following day from his house in House District 40.

With that change, Antone updated his voter registration records to show that he was living with a district aide on his legislative staff, in her Orlando apartment 10 miles away. Antone said he is married to another woman but separated.

When a reporter and photographer visited the apartment, one neighbor said she was holding a package for the aide delivered from Amazon and said she had never seen a man at the apartment. Meanwhile, Antone continued as recently as two months ago to receive postal mail at his address outside the House district he represents, according to state campaign filings.

In an interview, Antone, 63, said he forgot to update his voting records to reflect what he said was his new residential address. He confirmed he changed it because of the reporter’s inquiry.

Antone later stopped answering questions about where he lives. He did not respond to nine questions in writing sent last week to his office. Democrats in Tallahassee confirmed he received them.

The aide in the apartment where Antone said he now lives, Cassandra McAdams, 72, said she was not allowed to answer a reporter’s questions without approval from Antone.

Under Florida law, a House candidate or incumbent must live and be registered to vote in the district where they were running at the time of the election and must maintain a residence in the district for the entire term they are elected. Lawmakers are allowed to own multiple homes but can only have one principal, or legal, residence.

House rules say they consider a lawmaker’s legal residence to be the one listed on official documents or mentioned in statements to others, listed on voter registration records, listed on homestead exemption paperwork, listed on a driver’s license, or where a lawmaker receives mail, or where a spouse and minor children live and attend school.

Official legislative documents Antone submitted to the House clerk since 2014 affirming that he lived in the district where voters elected him do not include any specific home address, according to copies of the paperwork obtained under Florida’s public records law. Antone signed the documents attesting that he was a legal resident of his district and promising to maintain his legal residence in the same district for the duration of his term.

Lawmakers can be removed from office for violations and even can be prosecuted criminally for misrepresenting where they live. Under legislative rules, the House has exclusive jurisdiction over the qualifications of its members, including questions about their residency. Prosecutors can file criminal charges if they suspect someone may be guilty of perjury for lying on official documents.

This examination follows news reporting in December that newly elected Rep. Michael Redondo, a Miami Republican, who won the House District 118 seat in a close race, bought a two-bedroom luxury, waterfront condominium for $950,000 in District 113 and signed a 30-year mortgage May 30 that required him to live in the condo as his principal residence for at least one year. His Democratic challenger, Johnny Farias, has sued in circuit court asking a judge to remove Redondo from office.

The GOP-controlled Legislature in January allowed Redondo — a millionaire lawyer who said he was leasing an apartment behind a shopping mall in District 118 — to be sworn-in. Redondo has urged the Judge to throw out the lawsuit and filed for re-election in November. He complained in an interview that scrutiny of his living situation was politically motivated.

Questions about Antone surfaced in an ongoing review by Fresh Take Florida, a news service in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, which checks every month whether the addresses for each of Florida’s 160 House and Senate lawmakers on their voter registrations are within their legislative districts. Antone was regularly red-flagged until he changed his voting records to say he was living in his aide’s apartment.

The top election official in Orange County, where Antone is registered to vote, is Glenton “Glen” Gilzean, a Republican who DeSantis appointed last month after the retirement of the incumbent Supervisor of Elections, Bill Cowles, a Democrat who had served in the role for more than three decades.

Antone, one of only 23 Black lawmakers in the House, has been a fixture in the Capitol, where Republicans control the House and Senate. House Republicans outnumber Democrats 84-36, and Democrats fight hard for influence. Antone sponsored 151 bills over 14 years, but the Legislature passed only nine.

This month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation by Antone to designate a new legal holiday in March for Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill by Antone creating a task force to oversee development of a Florida Museum of Black History.

Where does Antone live in central Florida, compared to where he has run for office over his long legislative career?

For more than a decade, it’s been hard to know for sure.

Ahead of the 2022 election — when Antone easily won the HD 41 seat over a little-known Green Party candidate — Antone listed his address on a campaign treasurer filing he submitted to state officials in June that year as a four-bedroom home on Shenna Court about 10 miles west of downtown Orlando.

The home on Shenna Court is in HD 40, represented by Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, an Orlando Democrat. It’s the same address where Antone was registered as a voter for this November’s election and where he has received his postal mail — until he changed the address to say he is living in his aide’s apartment after a reporter’s inquiry. He had been registered there to vote since November 2021.

When a reporter and photographer visited Antone’s home on Shenna Court earlier this year, neighbors confirmed he lived there and said they see him there regularly.

Antone purchased the home on Shenna Court for $175,000 in January 2001 and continues to own the house, which is now worth roughly $443,000, according to county property records and real estate estimates. He receives a homestead property tax discount on the property because he has represented to tax officials for years that was his permanent residence. In some recent real estate photos, Antone’s car is seen parked in the driveway.

Antone said he filed for the homestead exemption because his wife, Debra McGowan, to whom he has been married since January 2000, lives at the property.

But in November 2022, Antone’s campaign said McGowan was living elsewhere, in a house on Twisted Pine Road in Ocoee, about seven miles north of Antone’s home on Shenna Court. Both homes are in HD 40, not HD 41.

Antone’s campaign paid McGowan $500 around this time for knocking on doors and dialing phones to support his re-election — and listed McGowan’s address in the transaction it reported to state officials as her home on Twisted Pine Road, which she bought in February 2000.

Antone said the two are still legally married but have been separated on-and-off for years, and that he sometimes lived with her after the separation.

“How long we’ve lived separately? Off and on for many, many years,” he said, before he subsequently stopped answering a reporter’s questions. “All in all, we’ve been in the same house, not in the same house.”

Antone took out a 30-year mortgage with McGowan for $245,000 on the house on Twisted Pine Road in Ocoee in HD 40 in May 2021 and promised the lender he would live there as his primary residence for at least one year, according to county records and a copy of the mortgage agreement.

During that same period when he was required by the mortgage to live in Ocoee — and required under Florida law to be living and voting in HD 41 — he indicated on official documents that he was living at two other addresses.

Reached by phone, McGowan declined to answer questions on the matter.

One day before Antone said on a campaign document in June 2022 that he was living on Shenna Court in HD 40, he listed his home address on another legal filing at a different location: a small, three-bedroom house on Lenox Boulevard in HD 41, about seven miles east of the home Antone owns on Shenna Court.

That house is owned by Robin Ross of Seal Beach, California, according to property records. At least one person living at that home since 2013 is Sandra Lewis, 72, according to her current voter registration.

Lewis and Antone’s relationship goes back decades. Antone paid Lewis $1,500 four months later, in September 2022, from his re-election funds. His campaign described the money for “political strategy, consulting and planning” and listed in the transaction record her address at the home on Lenox Boulevard where he earlier said he was living.

His campaign has separately paid Lewis a total of about $2,000 more in small amounts as far back as 2002 for election-related work described in documents as being a neighborhood coordinator, poll greeter, campaign coordinator, poll watcher and supervisor during at least five of his legislative campaigns.

In June 2018, Lewis filed as a write-in candidate to run against Antone — then abruptly withdrew from the race in October. That left Antone unopposed in the general election for House District 46 in Orlando, before Florida’s legislative boundaries were redrawn. For the 2018 election, Antone listed PO boxes in Orlando and Ocoee as his address on campaign filings.

Antone’s campaign separately paid his daughter, Kaylyn, who is now 26, about $11,500 for election-related work starting when she was 5 years old, according to campaign records. It always listed her home address as his house on Shenna Court, until late 2022 when she moved to Tampa to work as a hospital researcher.

In an interview earlier this year, Lewis said Antone still lived in her home on Lenox Boulevard — even though Antone by then was listing other addresses across Orlando on official documents as his primary residences, including his aide’s apartment where Antone said he was living.

The owner of the home on Lenox Boulevard, Ross, did not return phone messages.

Ahead of Antone’s election in 2016 for HD 46 — which he won easily against a write-in candidate — he listed his home address on campaign filings as a three-bedroom house on Marbello Boulevard in Orlando, which was in the same district. The home was owned at the time by Arvella Cobaris, a former campaign donor to Antone and who briefly served as Antone’s campaign Treasurer years earlier until Antone replaced him.

A family member who answered the phone said Cobaris was not willing to answer any questions about Antone or the home on Marbello Boulevard.

That house was at the same address where Antone’s voter registration records showed him living in 2018, when he listed PO boxes in Orlando and Ocoee as his address on campaign filings.

Questions about where Antone lives once landed him in a courtroom.

In 2020, when term limits forced Antone from the Legislature, he ran for the Orange County School Board.

In April 2020, despite still representing HD 46 until his term as lawmaker expired seven months later, Antone changed his voting address back to the house in Shenna Court, which at the time was in House District 45. In July 2020, he again changed his address, this time to the home on Lenox Boulevard, which was within the School Board district where he was running.

Antone’s opponent in the School Board race was current Orange County Commissioner Michael “Mike” Scott, before Scott was elected to the Commission. Scott sued to remove Antone from the ballot, saying that he lived outside the School Board district and was not qualified to run.

In the lawsuit, Scott also alleged Antone hadn’t lived in the district for at least some of the years when he was elected there. He said the house on Shenna Court was Antone’s “true residence.” Scott said Antone’s actions in the School Board race were a repeat of what he had done as a lawmaker. Scott declined to discuss Antone’s residency issues now.

At the first court hearing in the case, Antone’s lawyer, then-Rep. Joseph Scott Geller of Fort Lauderdale, said Antone was dropping out of the race despite earning a spot in the race’s runoff. Antone said ending his campaign would prevent the case from becoming a headache for election officials.

Geller told the Judge that Antone had been “honest and accurate and forthcoming” about where he was living at the time and said evidence in the case would have included a landlord’s testimony and a signed lease.

The decision to end his campaign meant none of the evidence was seen or heard in court.


Jimena Romero and Sydney Johnson contributed to this reporting in Orlando. 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.

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