Ex-Florida House candidate sues PAC, GOP consultant for defamation, conspiracy

Jose Juarez says attack ads damaged his reputation

Mailers released during the Florida House District 24 primary that appear to attack candidate Jose Juarez. (Jose Juarez)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The runner-up in the Republican primary for the Florida House District 24 seat in Marion County is suing a political action committee and a well-known Florida political consultant over campaign attack ads.

Jose Juarez is suing Floridians for Ethics and Truth in Politics for defamation, and Brett Doster, of The Front Line Agency, for conspiracy.

“My main motivation with this thing is it’s wrong, they should be held accountable,” said Juarez, who told News 6 that he wants a jury trial. “If you’re gonna put this out there, you need to own it. And if you decide to do it, you should have to pay for it.”

Juarez, who came in second out of five candidates in the Republican primary in March, said FETP released several campaign mailers that painted him in a false light.

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In one ad, Juarez is accused of not paying back $214,000 in government loans. Another ad claimed his candidacy was supported by “woke” groups that support an open borders immigration policy. The ad featured several men who appear to be gang members and said “illegal aliens are streaming across our border, bringing fentanyl and gang violence.”

Juarez, a business owner and Ocala resident, said he got calls after those mailers, asking him if they were true. He said friends told him other people said they wouldn’t vote for him because of what they had read.

“I’ve been here over 40 years, own two businesses, raised a family,” Juarez said. “The people who know me, know this is ridiculous. But what about the 10,000, 20,000 people who only know what was put out? It’s wrong and I think it’s damaging.”

Juarez said he did take a paycheck protection loan and later qualified for an employer retention credit during the pandemic. He said all of the money he got from the government went to keep his employees on the payroll, and the PPP loan was forgiven.

But the mailer hearkens back to the reason there was a special election for the Florida House District 24 seat in the first place — former State Rep. Joseph Harding resigned in December and recently pleaded guilty to fraudulently taking PPP loans for businesses that were inactive.

Juarez said the second ad was particularly galling because he had immigrated to this country from Cuba in the 1960s.

“We have a country with the best system of government. For someone to say we are soft on borders, it took (my family) years to come here legally. That’s offensive,” Juarez said.

Floridians for Ethics and Truth in Politics is a political action committee known for campaign ads. Its website offers no information about the group other than a physical address and an email address. The Florida Division of Elections website lists a phone number in its campaign records. Attempts to reach FETP via phone went straight to voicemail.

Records from the Florida Division of Elections show the group has gotten all of its money from other PACs, except for one contribution from the Doster Broker Group in 2018. A look at expenditure records on the state website shows one to The Front Line Agency for $1,492.12 in November for media communications. That was before Harding resigned.

After the ads were released, Juarez said a campaign consultant linked the ads to Doster and The Front Line Agency. Doster is a campaign strategist for Ryan Chamberlin, who won the March primary and is currently running against write-in candidate Robert Fox for the general election on May 16.

Chamberlin is not named in the lawsuit and Juarez said Chamberlin claims he isn’t connected to the mailers. News 6 tried to contact Doster, but he has not responded.

However, Juarez is hoping a discovery phase in the suit will lead to answers about who was really behind the mailers. He said attack ads like the ones sent out against him are why people don’t get into politics.

“The main thing is so that when people, good people want to serve, they want to run for office, that they can do that with confidence, knowing someone is not just going to make something up about them,” Juarez said.

“I’d love to clear my name, I don’t know if it will happen,” he said.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.