BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Today reports a “robocall” sent out by a political committee Friday targets Palm Bay Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson, alleging that he has been arrested for texting a lewd photo of himself to an underage girl.
The call from a group called Leadership for Florida's Future was referred to as a "Palm Bay sexual offender alert."
The incident in question happened several years ago, but the call does not give a time frame for the incident.
"I'm very disappointed. I'm not even aggravated or annoyed about it. Because whenever you're doing something right, things like this happen," Johnson said.
“One of my mentors always said, ‘New levels, new devils.’ In my current position as deputy mayor, I’m trying to do things right for the city and make the right moves and get us back on track. Things like this are going to occur,” he said.
The issue also came up during Johnson's 2018 campaign for Palm Bay City Council.
At that time, Johnson's campaign issued this statement:
"We can confirm there was an arrest. As a result of an investigation, all charges were dropped. The record was expunged by mutual agreement to protect all parties involved.
“The other party involved in the incident is aware of the current political attacks, and at the request of the family, the campaign had not released a statement up to this point. We have been asked not to share further details about the incident to protect their privacy and to avoid the same slander and libel that I and my team have faced in recent weeks.”
The statement noted that, "since the incident in question, Kenny is a current certified A Plus Volunteer with Brevard Public Schools, which requires an extensive background check by the state of Florida. He was awarded the 2018 Partner of the Year Award from Brevard Public Schools."
Johnson earlier this month was honored by LEAD Brevard as a winner of its “4 Under 40” award that highlights professionals making positive impacts in the community.
"Yes, I was arrested. I got an attorney and everything, and took matters up with the state attorney. And it was a big misunderstanding," Johnson said Friday.
"And after that, not only were the charges dropped, but expunged as well. That all happened within a six-month time period, if not shorter. It was quickly addressed," he said.
"I'm not a sexual predator or a molester, nor a pedophile or anything of that matter," Johnson said.
Brevard School Board member Tina Descovich, whose district covers much of Palm Bay, said she knew nothing about the robocall or the allegations.
Johnson was approved to work as a volunteer in Brevard schools in 2017 after passing a fingerprint and background check, Descovich said.
"When I visit my elementary schools and I talk to the kids, and I say: Who taught you to shake hands, they say, 'Mr. Kenny! Mr. Kenny!' " Descovich said. "He's in our schools and doing good work."
Matt Reed, Brevard Public Schools assistant superintendent for government and community relations, said the district "started getting calls" in reaction to the robocall, "and we were absolutely caught off-guard."
Reed said Johnson "is not a teacher or a BPS employee. We're in communication with Palm Bay police about this, but as far as I know, we don't have any information about anything that was in" the robocall.
Reed confirmed that Johnson is "a registered volunteer who cleared the criminal background check."
The robocall said that "if you have an underage daughter, you are advised to be on the alert for any illegal pornography sent by Palm Bay Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson that may be transmitted from Johnson's cellphone" or from his cousin, Robert Burns.
Burns was the campaign manager in Johnson's successful 2018 campaign for Palm Bay City Council, and is the current campaign manager of Democratic congressional candidate Jim Kennedy.
The call says people should be advised that Johnson "is still being allowed to have unsupervised access to young girls at Palm Bay schools."
The robocall encourages people who are concerned about Johnson "being around our young girls or that he might again expose himself" to contact the Brevard School Board.
Over the last week, Republican officials and activists have been hinting in social media posts that some retaliation campaign was in the works as payback for posts in the Space Coast Rocket blog, which they claim is run by Burns.
Florida Rep. Randy Fine figured prominently in some of the chatter. In a pair of Facebook comments last week, Fine warned: "Those two cousins are about to get a nice reminder that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones," and wrote that karma is, "a revelation of your desire to photograph your anatomy."
Fine told FLORIDA TODAY Friday: "I’m shocked and alarmed by the call learning that Kenny Johnson shares disturbing pictures of his privates with an underage girl. The school board should investigate this immediately.”
Fine said he had nothing to do with financing the robocall: "I've been in Tallahassee all week. You can see, by law, what I spend my campaign funds on. It's all public."
Brevard County Commission Chairman Bryan Lober posted a copy of the recording of the robocall on one of his Facebook pages.
Lober added the message: "I stand with Leadership for Florida's Future in their efforts to protect Brevard's precious children. The attached audio is apparently being called in to Palm Bay residents this afternoon. I sincerely doubt those behind this alert would lie and subject themselves to a clear defamation claim."
His post also tagged a number of other elected officials and others who are politically active, as well as several politically focused websites, assuring that they are alerted to the information.
Palm Bay resident Chris Foster was among those who received the robocall on his cellphone, and was upset by it.
"I just think it turns people off from politics," Foster said, adding that he felt such calls can be "a way to distract people" from the real issues, potentially including allegations of political corruption in Palm Bay.
"It just seems very wrong," Foster said. "It's just terrible."
Foster said he votes regularly, but he and members of his his family are not politically active. So he doesn't know how his cellphone got on the call list
Foster said called the school district phone number referred to on the call, and was told that a number of other people also called the number, and the matter was referred to district security staff.