Former sales representatives with The Villages in recent legal depositions detailed the political pressure exerted by top executives in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.
Cynthia Hughes was deposed May 28 in the ongoing lawsuit The Villages is pursuing against two former top producers who quit to form their own real estate venture, KD Premier Realty.
Hughes worked in real estate in New York before moving to The Villages in 2004. The Buffalo, N.Y. native had an interview with Properties of The Villages on the day she and her husband closed on their house. In January 2005, she began working as an hourly guest coordinator and later that year signed an independent contractor agreement as she moved into a sales representative role. She left Properties of The Villages earlier this year to join former colleagues, Christopher Day and Jason Kranz, founders of KD Premier Realty.
The lengthy deposition given as part of the federal civil case offers an insight into the inner workings of Properties of The Villages.
In particular, Hughes revealed the pressure to support political candidates favored by The Villages, with campaign donations and their votes.
During the deposition, she was shown a 2012 letter from Gary and Renee Morse, soliciting contributions for the Mitt Romney campaign. The letter was mailed to her home.
Hughes said she was unsure of what she should do. She said it didn’t feel right.
“And I felt intimidated like I had to contribute. They’re sending this to you and they’re telling you to send it back to the executive office. So they know who is contributing and who is not. And I felt like I had to or my job might be in jeopardy. I just felt like I had to,” Hughes said in the deposition.
She said she never had an employer make such a request. Even with the Morse family’s well-known record for political activity, Hughes said she was surprised.
And there were other troubling incidents.
“They’ve had other people that were running for political positions in The Villages before and heavily promoted them,” Hughes said under oath.
“At sales meetings they’ve had people like (Villages Vice President for Community Relations) Gary Lester in there with pre-filled out forms telling us how they would like you to vote. Not that you should vote this way, but it would be great if you did vote this way so that The Villages could keep growing and you could still have your jobs and have a way to – have a way to support your families,” Hughes said.
The deposition, obtained this week by Villages-News.com, offered an insight into the process of guiding sales representatives to the ballot box at election time.
“It’s just like, you know, you come into a place of business and you’re pushing your political beliefs on the whole sales staff and having pre-filled out campaign voting ballots and tell you to pick one (up) in the hallway, off the desk in the hallway,” she said.
In a June 3 deposition in the same case, Nanette Elliott, who joined Properties of The Villages in 2004 and later defected to KD Premier Realty, told a similar story.
“We would have meetings when Gary Lester would come in and talk to the group and they would have, The Villages had candidates that were – their thoughts and plans were favorable to The Villages, plans for going forward with development or whatever. A story was told to us about the one vote that made the difference of being able to go south of 466 back in 2003 or 2004,” she said.