TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A two-year voter fraud investigation that centered on a company once aligned with the Republican Party of Florida has wrapped up with the arrest of a former employee.
Four people, including William T. Hazard of Boynton Beach, wound up getting up charged over allegations of submitting false voter registration forms. State investigators looked at questionable forms submitted in seven counties, including instances where voters had their party affiliation switched from Democrat to Republican.
Hazard was arrested on Tuesday on eight charges of submitting false voter registration forms. In Florida, it is a third-degree felony to "willfully submit" any false voter registration information, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement contends in a report summarizing the investigation that there was no evidence that Strategic Allied Consultants directed its employees to turn in fake forms. The firm was hired by the GOP to run voter registration drives in several states during the crucial 2012 election.
"This investigation revealed no evidence of a conspiracy between SAC employees and management to commit voter registration fraud," states the FDLE report. "All employees of SAC were provided with training on Florida law relating to voter registrations, and the investigation determined that those employees identified as possibly having completed fraudulent voter registration applications did so independently and of their own volition."
Company officials also maintained to investigators that they did not pay their employees based on how many forms they turned in although they were expected to collect at least one form an hour. Strategic Allied representatives have said the problems came from a handful of bad employees. The company at one point had 2,000 people working in the state.
"My client feels fully vindicated," said Frederick Petti, an attorney for the company. "From the first day this story broke, Strategic Allied said this would be contained to a few 'bad apples.' They were right. Two years later the truth is known."
But the breadth of that investigation has previously been questioned by Democratic legislators. They asked House Speaker Will Weatherford last year to look into the "superficial review" of voter fraud allegations but the request was not granted. Records released by FDLE, for example, show that one supervisor gathering forms in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties refused to speak to investigators.
Republicans in Florida paid the company at least $1.3 million during the 2012 election cycle to register voters. The state GOP said it hired the company at the suggestion of the Republican National Committee. But the Republican Party of Florida fired the company after election supervisors began flagging suspicious voter registration forms.
The FDLE investigation centered on questionable forms submitted in seven counties across the state, including counties in southwest Florida, the Panhandle and in South Florida.
Two former employees who worked for the company in Duval County pleaded guilty to voter registration fraud. But prosecutors in January 2013 decided to place both of them on probation because neither employee had a criminal history. A former employee working in the Panhandle was charged with two counts of voter registration fraud.
Arrest documents alleged that Hazard completed forms using information from people he knew including the owner of a car dealership he worked at before he was fired. In two instances, Hazard switched the party affiliation of two people from Democrat to Republican.
Court records in Palm Beach County do not show an attorney representing Hazard. A phone number listed for his address was out of service.
Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.