BY JAMES HARPER
The Daytona Times has learned the Florida Elections Commission (FEC) has launched an investigation against Volusia County Council candidate Nancy Epps pertaining to a complaint filed against her by a former mayor of Ponce Inlet.
Epps also is a former mayor of Ponce Inlet and is running against incumbent Volusia County Councilman Josh Wagner.
Former Ponce Inlet Mayor Tony Goudie filed a complaint with the FEC against Epps, alleging that she has committed multiple violations during her bid to unseat Wagner.
In a letter sent to Epps obtained by the Times, FEC Interim Executive Director Eric Lipman said the agency is investigating whether Epps incurred expenses for the purchase of goods or services without sufficient funds on deposit in her primary depository account and if Epps made or authorized expenditures prohibited by Florida election statues.
“I believe voters should know this because it’s factual, salient information that gives one the ability to evaluate a candidate,” Goudie said about why he filed the complaint against Epps with the FEC.
In the letter from Lipman to Epps, she is asked to respond to the allegations by “filing a notarized statement providing any information regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations.”
Lipman wrote that when the FEC investigation is concluded Epps will receive a copy of the report of the investigation and can file a response.
Epps also has the option, according to Lipman, to notify the FEC in writing if she wants to enter into negotiations directed toward reaching a settlement before any hearings.
The Daytona Times was able to reach Epps’ campaign manager, Dottie Lewis.
“The rules of the Elections Commission say that all investigations, reports and other documents are confidential. However, the confidentiality doesn’t apply to the person making the complaint,’’ Lewis said.
Goudie said Epps could go public.
“It’s a choice. I would say nothing and run the clock too if I were her. The election will be over by the time her case is investigated. The Commission doesn’t meet again till November,” said Goode.
Statement by Epps, McFall
Lewis did provide a statement from Epps.
“I will obtain legal advice before proceeding to responding specifically to the current complaint.
What I can state factually is that no checks were unpaid and there has never been any intent to violate any election laws of any kind,” Epps wrote.
When asked about the Epps case by the Daytona Times before the newspaper’s press deadline on Wednesday, Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall said, “I am not doing an investigation. The Florida Election Commission may be although they have not called for any information.”
The Times sent McFall a copy of the letter sent to Epps from the FEC. McFall said, “My only role will be to provide public records requests to the Florida Elections Commission.”
McFall would not say what would happen if Epps is elected to the County Council and found guilty of any of the allegations.
Henry’s case mentioned
However, McFall did add, “The most recent case is Mr. (Derrick) Henry with the City of Daytona Beach case. He won his election and had to step down in 2010-11.”
McFall was referring to former Daytona Beach City Commissioner Derrick Henry, who is currently running for mayor against City Commissioner Edith Shelley.
Absentee ballot fraud charges in 2010 against Henry were eventually dropped after he paid a fine and completed an ethics course.
Goudie also told the Daytona Times he wants to know why there is a double standard in the handling of the allegations he has made against Epps.
“Why the double standard? Derrick Henry’s story was based on the elections’ supervisor forwarding documentation to the State Attorney for review.”
Earlier this month, McFall stopped a different probe of Henry into absentee ballot request form irregularities. McFall met with Assistant State Attorney Louis Bustamante last month and handed over information relating to absentee ballot request forms.
The elections supervisor was concerned this summer when three envelopes with absentee ballot request forms were mailed to her office in DeLand with Henry’s name and address on them in the upper left-hand corner, one of which had a request from a resident who had died.
Goudie said Epps’ alleged violations are documented and came straight from the elections supervisor’s website.
Copies of the documentation Goudie used to file the complaint against Epps were obtained by the Daytona Times.
“Figures don’t lie; and her submitted campaign finance reports clearly show multiple instances of negative balances in her checking account, and repeated payments to vendors from the same account. In one finance disclosure, she notes a payment of bank fees, which ostensibly appear to be charges for insufficient funds,” Goudie stated.
Goudie said public records show that there are multiple violations of campaign finance laws between June 2012 and August 2012.
When told of Epps’ response, Goudie said, “It’s not about whether any checks were unpaid; it’s the fact that she repeatedly issued checks to vendors for services when the account was negative; this, in and of itself is a violation of campaign finance laws.”
Epps’ challenger Josh Wagner told the Times this week he is aware of the allegations and the complaint.
Wagner would not comment on the specific allegations but did say if he is expected to follow the campaign finance laws so should his opponent.