Candidate for Orange County sheriff faces possible disqualification Friday

Judge will decide merits of lawsuit against Darryl Sheppard

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Darryl Sheppard, the lone Democrat in the race for Orange County sheriff, may become a non-candidate if a judge agrees with a lawsuit that alleges he violated elections protocol.

Circuit Judge Renee Roche will review the lawsuit Friday. According to the lawsuit, Sheppard “clearly failed” to meet qualifying requirements by submitting two bad checks to the Orange County supervisor of elections office before finally providing a viable cashier’s check minutes before a 48-hour extension.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 1, names Sheppard and Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles as co-defendants.

Attorneys for the plaintiff, Said Lutfi, told News 6 that Sheppard has been avoiding process servers for several weeks, prompting the law firm to hire private detectives to find him.

“The process server has not been able to find him,” Winter Park attorney Stuart P. Buchanan said. “They (private detectives)  are looking at every known address that he has listed on his campaign report.”

Sheppard said he is convinced the lawsuit is an attempt to clear the way for candidates John Mina and Joe Lopez.

“My reaction is it’s another attempt at getting me off the ballot," Sheppard said. “I think the campaigns are threatened, so I wasn’t surprised.”

Sheppard said the campaign checking account issues were not intentional and that he always intended to make sure the qualifying fee was paid.

Said Lutfi, owner of the Lutfi Investment company, said he filed the lawsuit after seeing a report on News 6 about the bad checks and how much money was involved.

Lutfi and Sheppard have been in a legal dispute since May 2017 involving a property at 500 N. Orange Blossom Trail. He said Sheppard owes him more than $100,000.

“If he has money to run for sheriff, why doesn’t he come and pay me some of my money?" Lutfi said.

Buchanan said the hearing, set for 3 p.m. Friday, will take place even if Sheppard is not served with a summons.

“The reason we think we can do that is we’re not asking the judge to order Sheppard to do anything," Buchanan said. “We are asking the judge to order the supervisor of elections to do something, not to count any votes that are cast for Sheppard.”

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