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Sean Hannity's Sheriff Friend Faces Mounting Ethics Allegations
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=30101"><span class="small">Jon Swaine, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Wednesday, 18 September 2019 12:50

Swaine writes: "Sean Hannity told viewers of his primetime Fox News show that Marceno was a 'dear friend.' On Carmine Marceno's recommendation, Hannity was made an 'honorary deputy' of the county and given a gold star badge."

Sean Hannity with Sheriff Carmine Marceno, whose actions have dismayed some fellow Republicans. (photo: Lee County Sheriff's Office)
Sean Hannity with Sheriff Carmine Marceno, whose actions have dismayed some fellow Republicans. (photo: Lee County Sheriff's Office)

Sean Hannity's Sheriff Friend Faces Mounting Ethics Allegations

By Jon Swaine, Guardian UK

18 September 19

Carmine Marceno faces questions over whether he is qualified, unusual political payments and relationship with crime victim

armine Marceno was a rising Republican star in Florida a year ago, having leveraged his crime-fighting prowess, celebrity friendships and knack for self-promotion to secure the job of Lee county sheriff.

Sean Hannity told viewers of his primetime Fox News show that Marceno was a “dear friend”. On Marceno’s recommendation, Hannity was made an “honorary deputy” of the county and given a gold star badge.

Rick Scott, then Florida’s governor, travelled to speak at Marceno’s swearing-in, having selected him for the role. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the state that is going to do a better job than Carmine,” Scott, now a US senator, said at the time.

But as he campaigns to be elected sheriff in his own right next year, Marceno’s political sheen appears to be wearing thin.

The sheriff is facing allegations that he did not properly qualify as a Florida police officer. One of his predecessors has warned that if confirmed, the finding could void every arrest Marceno made and vacate convictions he helped secure.

The Guardian has identified unusual payments of $24,000 apparently made to another close friend of Marceno from a political committee with connections to his election campaign, and misreported to Florida authorities.

And Marceno has been accused of inappropriate conduct towards a woman he dated after she reported a crime to his office. The woman alleges the sheriff abused his position and begged her to have an abortion after she became pregnant.

Marceno, 47, has denied wrongdoing. He did not respond to questions. Lt Anita Iriarte, a spokeswoman for the sheriff, said in an email: “We are respectfully declining to comment.”

In a statement, Hannity said Marceno was an “incredibly hard-working, law-abiding official who is a dedicated public servant”. The Fox News host said his friend had frequently gone beyond his duties to keep the people of Lee county safe.

Born and raised in New York City, Marceno worked as a parks police officer on Long Island in the late 1990s before moving to Naples, in south-west Florida. He worked for a tanning salon run by his father and joined the city police department in 1999.

It is not clear, however, that he should have been allowed to.

Marceno took advantage of a rule allowing officers who move to Florida from other states to skip the standard five months of training if they have already worked full-time in law enforcement for a year elsewhere. Yet records obtained by reporters at the affiliate Fox 4 say Marceno was only a part-time or seasonal officer on Long Island.

Rodney Shoap, Lee county’s sheriff until 2004, said the discovery could have dire consequences. “Any arrest he made could be invalid,” Shoap said in an interview. “The courts would be crazy with people challenging their convictions.”

The discrepancies do not end there. Records say Marceno was dismissed by Naples in 2000, having twice failed a required exam. Yet when he later applied successfully for a job at Collier county sheriff’s office in 2002, Marceno claimed in his paperwork that the reason he had left the earlier job was to “help family in New York”.

Shoap has filed complaints about Marceno to authorities including Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor. He was contacted by an investigator from Florida’s ethics commission who was assigned to look into the sheriff, he said. A commission spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

Marceno spent a decade as a deputy in Collier county and became friends with Hannity, who has owned a $4.75m beachside penthouse in Naples, Collier’s biggest city, since 2009. Hannity has called Naples a “paradise” and said he will eventually move there. Shell companies linked to the Fox News host own at least four other homes in the city and sold a fifth last year for $2.9m, according to county records.

In 2013, Marceno moved to neighboring Lee county as a lieutenant. He climbed the ranks remarkably fast, rising to captain and then under-sheriff – effectively the second in command.

Hannity seemed to beam with pride. When a local newspaper noted Marceno was becoming the department’s public face, the Fox News host shared the article on Twitter. “My buddy Carmine,” he wrote.

Then the previous sheriff abruptly announced his retirement. When Scott selected Marceno to take over, a happy Hannity tweeted again. “Two great men, a great choice!” he said. Hannity has since mass-deleted old tweets.

Terri Taylor, until recently an executive assistant in the sheriff’s office, said Marceno’s celebrity alliances and media savvy aided his rapid rise – and put noses out of joint.

“Carmine arrived with a lot of contacts, people with money like Sean Hannity, Shaquille O’Neal and Judge Judy,” said Taylor. “He always liked to throw that name out – that he was friends with Sean.”

Marceno took calls from Hannity over the speaker system in his personal car, demonstrating to passengers how close they were, according to someone who travelled with him.

Several people who worked with him said Marceno made himself invaluable by raising money for his predecessor’s 2015 re-election campaign. In a rare venture into politics, Hannity’s wife, Jill, wrote a $1,000 check for the campaign, county records say.

Hannity was apparently rewarded for all his support with the “honorary deputy” badge while Marceno was still the department’s second in command.

The sheriff’s office declined to say when and why Hannity was given the award. It omitted Hannity’s name from a list of badge recipients released to the Guardian in response to a public records request, before later confirming when pressed that he received one.

The Fox News host said he attributed the award to his “30-plus public years of support for people who put their lives on the line to serve and protect”.

He said: “The sheriff knows my mom was a prison guard, my dad a family court probation officer, many close relatives serve in the New York police department, and two of my family members served in the FBI. I have nothing but the highest respect for law enforcement.”

Critics of the honorary deputy system have said some recipients try to use them to escape traffic stops. A spokesman for the sheriff said this was not allowed, and Hannity said he would never take advantage of the status this way.

In July last year, Hannity visited the county to campaign for DeSantis’s bid for governor. He gave Marceno a shout-out from the stage. Not long after, Marceno encountered issues in his personal life that have dismayed some fellow Republicans.

A resident, Deanna Williams, alleged she became pregnant by Marceno during a brief relationship last year. Williams, 44, showed the Guardian messages that, she said, Marceno sent her after she visited the sheriff’s office to report a theft.

Williams also shared a medical record from a clinic in Fort Myers, dated 2 October last year, which said she was pregnant at the time.

In a series of text messages in late September, Marceno pleaded with Williams to terminate the pregnancy. “I BEG you to please not have this child. Beg is an understatement,” he said, later adding: “Please do not ruin my life. I beg you please.”

Williams said the pregnancy ended in a stillbirth this year. She complained about Marceno to Florida authorities, alleging he threatened her. Marceno denied this and after a brief review, officials concluded there were insufficient grounds for a criminal inquiry.

Shoap, the former sheriff who filed complaints about Marceno, cited Marceno’s conduct toward Williams in addition to concerns over his qualifications. Shoap said ethics investigators were looking into both matters.

Williams filed a paternity lawsuit against Marceno which was eventually dismissed this month. “The crime I reported was for him an opportunity to have a relationship,” she said in an interview. “He abused his position.”

Chris Crowley, a lawyer active in the local Republican party, said the saga had offended some Marceno supporters on the right. “This is a conservative area,” he said, “and Carmine when it comes to abortion is certainly not conservative.”

Still, Marceno currently seems likely to win the Republican nomination for sheriff and the general election next year.

His only serious primary challenger is Jim Leavens, a retired officer. Marceno is trouncing Leavens in the fundraising stakes, having brought in almost $215,000. Leavens has raised only $26,000 – about a third of which he loaned to himself.

In addition, a political committee led by the influential Republican operative who is overseeing Marceno’s official campaign has raised a remarkable $369,000, prompting opponents to fear it may be used to crush any challengers. The committee has not officially declared who or what it will support, but its haul includes contributions from 13 of Marceno’s deputies and the spouses of three others.

The committee, Conservative Champion Leaders, has in recent months reported paying $24,000 for consulting services to a company that appears to not exist.

The money was reportedly paid in three installments to “Amcar Consulting LLC”. No such company could be located in the US, and the location given as the company’s address is not recognised as active by county authorities.

But a friend of Marceno’s, Carmine Dell Aquila, has a Florida company with a similar name, Amcar LLC, which owns a property with a similar address. When making political donations in the past, Amcar LLC was said to be in the business of car sales.

It was not clear what the payments were for. Two sources said Dell Aquila appeared to be helping Marceno’s campaign and was frequently at the sheriff’s headquarters. A spokesman confirmed Dell Aquila had an entry pass for the building.

Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an election law expert at Stetson University, said the payments should be classed as in-kind donations if they related to work on Marceno’s campaign. Under Florida law, a political committee may contribute a maximum of $1,000 to a sheriff’s campaign.

“If the outsider pays a campaign worker more than they could give in-kind to the campaign, that’s a contribution limit violation,” said Torres-Spelliscy.

Reached by phone, Dell Aquila declined to comment, hung up and then did not respond to messages.

Dell Aquila took over a Nissan dealership in New York having loaned almost $2m to the former owners at short notice and then sued when they failed to repay. He is also attempting to develop a $30m racetrack and motorsports facility in Lee county.

The motorsports development needs support from elected officials in the county who, in turn, tend to seek the sheriff’s endorsement for their own election campaigns.

Eric Robinson, the Republican operative running Marceno’s campaign and the political committee, did not respond to emails and text messages, and hung up when reached by phone. your social media marketing partner
Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2019 13:06