TALLAHASSEE -- Criminal investigators couldn’t find a better witness than Jeff Jewett.
Last year, Jewett was the field coordinator for a private vendor used by the Republican Party of Florida in Jacksonville, overseeing a staff of 32 people registering voters. He discovered that one of his employees turned in seven bogus forms: fake addresses, non-working phone numbers, multiple signatures made in the same handwriting. He fired the employee, contacted elections officials and turned in the counterfeit forms.
Jewett’s tip launched voter registration fraud case JA-32-0001 that would take Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents three months to close. The employee, a University of North Florida college student, admitted to investigators that he forged the forms. Because he had no criminal history, he got probation and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service.
Case closed, right?
Sure, except for one thing.
Jewett, the one who reported the crime, the one who supervised the employee and could best inform investigators if this was an isolated case or was more systemic, was never interviewed.
“I was surprised,” Jewett said. “I figured they’d be interested in talking to me considering I was the one who turned him in.”
Such a lack of initiative is baffling for an investigation into a crime that Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers had made a top priority in prosecuting and preventing. In the 18 months leading to last year’s presidential campaign, they said the specter of voter registration fraud was so great that it was necessary to push for a purge of ineligible voters and a new law that made it harder to register voters.
Ironically, the only widespread incidents of voter registration fraud in last year’s elections involved Republicans.
Jewett’s case was one of five separate investigations involving Strategic Allied Consulting, a vendor hired by the Republican Party of Florida. While three remain open, investigators on Thursday closed a case involving at least 11 fraudulent applications filled out by the vendor in the Fort Myers area. No arrests were made because investigators concluded there was a lack of evidence.
According to FDLE records provided to the Times/Herald about the Jacksonville case, investigators interviewed the UNF student and another low-level staffer in a nearby office who admitted to forging applications. But they didn’t follow up by interviewing the two staffers’ supervisors, including Jewett.
“They never talked to the whistle blower?” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who analyzes state election laws, when told about Jewett. “That’s unbelievable. You just wonder if the FDLE is sitting on this and hoping it withers away.”
Strategic Allied Consulting was a largely unknown entity until Sept. 18, 2012, when Palm Beach County elections officials discovered fraudulent forms filed by the GOP vendor. The vendor said it fired two employees responsible, but a dozen other counties reported hundreds of similarly suspicious forms. The state Republican Party announced within days that it fired the vendor.
In October, the FDLE announced it would investigate Strategic Allied Consulting. From then on, news of the cases stopped.
Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the FDLE, said she can’t discuss the open cases — in Pensacola, Miami and Tallahassee — until they’re closed.