Democrats' executive committee 'unlikely' to back candidate for Orange County sheriff

Darryl Sheppard's legal past has county Dems concerned

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - The Democratic candidate for Orange County sheriff, Darryl Sheppard, is “unlikely” to get the endorsement of the county’s Democratic executive committee when it meets to approve the party slate, including candidates and resolutions, next week, according to committee Chairman Wes Hodge.

Hodge told News 6 there have been discussions with Sheppard about the viability of his candidacy, in which the committee has essentially asked him to withdraw from the race.

“We’ve had conversations with him, asking if he was the best candidate for sheriff," Hodge said. “His response has been (that) he feels like he’s offering the voters a choice.”

That choice, Hodge admits, comes with legal baggage, with roughly 13 charges, including DUIs and bad checks, in both Leon and Orange counties.

On Monday night, Sheppard told News 6 that he was never convicted -- and the declaration by Hodge is all about getting someone else elected.

An investigation by News 6 found that Sheppard paid his $10,000 qualifying fee to the supervisor of elections with a bad check, not once, but twice, before finally presenting a viable check from the FairWinds Credit Union on June 27.

Sheppard said there was confusion with the new account and that the funds were always there.

“You brought some compelling evidence that concerns people,” Hodge said. “I’ll be honest with you. I did a lot of recruiting. I was trying to find a candidate, because we knew Mina and Lopez couldn’t run as Democrats.”

Both of those candidates to whom he's referring, Orlando Police Chief John Mina and former Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Joe Lopez, intended to run as Democrats, but because they missed the one-year deadline to switch party affiliation, they filed as "no party affiliation."

The Florida Democratic Party's executive committee will meet Sept. 17 to decide which candidates and amendments will get full support of the local committee but, under current policy, they cannot endorse Mina or Lopez.

Sheppard declined to discuss his party’s apparent reluctance to support his candidacy, but hinted he would be going public with more very soon.

In an email to News 6, he wrote, ”For the record, I am still running as the nominee for the Democratic (P)arty.” 

Hodge said the committee has not endorsed Sheppard and that he personally has some “concerns and reservations.” Hodge was quick to add that Sheppard still “has a right to run.”

“The paper trail is there. There’s no disputing it,“ Hodge said. “He has to be held accountable by the voters.”

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowels told News 6 that Sheppard was fined $2,150 for missing the filing deadline for his campaign account on June 29. 

Cowels said Sheppard has a pattern of making excuses instead of following set elections protocol, and several of his reports are considered to be incomplete.

“At this point, he has an outstanding fine with our office," Cowels said. “The Florida Elections Commission is looking into these unpaid fines.”

Cowels told News 6 that Sheppard’s lax attitude has led to what he called “the most excessive (fines) we’ve dealt with, with any candidate.”

“At this point, only he or some court would be the only thing to remove him (from the ballot)," Cowels said. “He will be dealing not only with our office, but he is dealing with an investigation by the Florida Elections Commission into these incomplete reports.”

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