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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Sumter County commissioners facing perjury charges contend truth will come out

Gary Search 1
Gary Search
Oren Miller 1
Oren Miller

Sumter County commissioners Oren Miller and Gary Search arrested Wednesday on perjury charges contend the truth will come out and clear their names.

Each posted bail of $2,000 at the Sumter County Jail and was released.

The charges apparently are related to not telling the truth during questioning last summer by the state’s attorney about three ethics complaints related to alleged violations of Florida’s Sunshine Law.

It is illegal under the Sunshine Law for two public officials to communicate through a third party, also known as a conduit. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment.

Those complaints against the two rookie commissioners may be part of a vendetta by the Developer and the Daily Sun to discredit them after they were elected in a landslide last year, ousting two developer-backed candidates.

County Chairman Craig Estep, also elected last year over a developer-backed candidate, was not charged, although he also is attacked repeatedly by the Developer-owned newspaper.

The three commissioners were elected a year after the ousted commissioners supported a 25 percent property tax rate increase, which angered many voters.

Both arrested commissioners said they have done nothing wrong. They were reluctant to comment on the investigation.

“The truth will come out eventually and I’ve done nothing criminal,” Search said.

During a phone interview, Miller praised the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office on handling his booking and said he did not know what the perjury charge involved.

He elaborated more about the charge in a social media post.

“This is the latest attempt by people in power to silence the voice of Sumter County residents,” he wrote. “It’s no secret that The Villages actively worked to elect my opponent, providing nearly bottomless resources. It’s no secret that The Villages controlled the Sumter County Board of Commissioners and through that control were able to create sweetheart deals for themselves.”

Miller also wrote that the Developer’s newspaper “has continually libeled me with claims so outrageous they have been called fractured fairy tales.”

Last spring, Estep, Miller and Search voted to increase impact fees in an effort to get The Villages and other developers to pay a larger share of the infrastructure cost. Several meetings were packed with construction workers and business owners objecting to the higher one-time fees. The increase was rescinded after a retroactive state law, cosponsored by state Rep. Brett Hage, made it illegal. Hage receives a six-figure annual salary from The Villages.

The latest charges may be related to a wide-ranging open records request earlier this year by former circuit judge George Angeliadis, who requested copies of emails between the three new commissioners and 11 other people. The request was described by some of the people involved as a “fishing expedition” to discredit the new commissioners.

Commissioner Doug Gilpin has been named as Angeliadis’ client, although the attorney refused to confirm that. Gilpin also refused to comment on whether he was the client.

The arrests come a day after Gilpin, during a long speech at a meeting, urged his fellow commissioners to focus on the positive aspects of Sumter County.

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