Prosecutors have dropped an investigation into allegations that state Senate candidate Andrew Korge offered a $25,000 “bribe” to an opponent to switch races.
The reasons: Korge and his consultants insisted the figure wasn’t supposed to be any kind of direct payment, but a target amount of money he would help raise for Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, a state senator and longtime elected official.
Korge’s claim was bolstered by text messages that showed Bullard, weeks earlier, had asked for help from Korge in fundraising, according to a final report on the investigation released Thursday by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
“Korge indicated that he desired to assist Bullard for the betterment of the Democratic Party’s goals and mission,” the report said.
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“I’m thrilled the state attorney’s office has cleared me of any wrongdoing,” Korge said Thursday night. “I’m going to continue to be focused on this campaign.”
The report ends a strange side story to the race for the District 40 seat, which pits Korge against Bullard and Missalys Perez in Tuesday’s primary race. Former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan is also on the primary ballot, although she suspended her campaign.
The winner will take on Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles in November.
Korge, the son of prominent Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge, is a political newcomer who has dismayed some politicians with his aggressive tactics. He has switched campaigns several times in the past 15 months, drawing criticism for “shopping” for a favorable seat he could win.
Rivas Logan also claimed that Korge asked her to switch seats, although she said she was offered no money.
Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is a state senator and longtime elected official.
“As someone who is pushing for criminal-justice reform, I’m not trying to see anyone’s life thrown away,” Bullard said Thursday night of the decision to not prosecute Korge. “But if that tactic is going to be potentially used in the future — by Korge or anybody else — then we really have to tighten up our definition of public corruption.”
In a statement, Korge said the probe reflected poorly on Bullard. “The investigation confirmed that Dwight Bullard solicited me for campaign and fundraising support. It is unfortunate that Senator Bullard chose to lie to voters purely for his own political gain. This is the type of dirty politics that makes voters sick.”
Prosecutors began investigating in July after the allegations were first reported by the Sunshine State News.
As laid out in the final state attorney’s report, the episode reads like a small-time political game of telephone that quickly escalated into a dud of a criminal probe.
In a strange twist, Korge himself was the one who leaked the $25,000 number to Sunshine State News, which contacted Bullard, who confirmed the story.
Bullard told a state agent that Korge made the offer through a political consultant named Pamela Burch Fort, who claimed a Korge campaign staffer asked her to reach out to Bullard. She believed the offer meant simply that Korge would help Bullard raise funds because the veteran politician “is not known to be a strong fundraiser.”
The Korge campaign worker turned out to be media consultant Robert Doyle, who insisted that the $25,000 figure was not a “lump sum” to be paid to Bullard but was “to be raised through a large group of donors who would like to see both Bullard and Korge’s campaigns succeed.”
Korge told Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agent Michael D’Ambrosia and prosecutor Trent Reichling that the dollar figure was only supposed to be “about fundraising efforts.”
“To prove a crime occurred, the evidence gathered during the course of this criminal inquiry must establish Korge paid funds from his own account to Bullard’s campaign in exchange for the Bullard campaign’s ‘aid’ or ‘promotion’ of Korge’s candidacy,” Reichling wrote.