1-800-ASK-GARY founder, namesake spending big bucks to change direction of local election

10:09 PM, Aug 9, 2012   |    comments
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BRADENTON and SARASOTA, Florida - He's best known for his hotline that refers consumers to lawyers or doctors after an accident.  

But the namesake of 1-800-ASK-GARY refused to answer the calls of the 10 News Investigators when they wanted to know about his political donations.

"Any donation I have made," Dr. Gary Kompothecras said in an e-mail statement through his lawyer, "has been within the laws and limitations set forth by the State of Florida."

Kompothekras has recently spent loads of money - perhaps hundreds of thousands - on an often-uncontested race for State Attorney in the 12th Judicial Circuit.  The top lawyer in Manatee, Sarasota, and DeSoto counties, Earl Moreland, is retiring after more than two decades in office.

Two Republicans are on the primary ballot to replace Moreland: Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky and former Assistant State Attorney Peter Lombardo.  There is also Democrat John Torraco waiting in the wings, but Brodsky had virtually all of the race's endorsements and big financial backers - until Kompothecras started financing Lombardo's bid in July.

Dr. Gary's interest in the election 

With the Florida Bar and CFO Jeff Atwater cracking down on lawyer-referral services like 1-800-ASK-GARY, Kompothecras pushed for prosecution of the man considered a "whistleblower" by investigators.

Dr. Jeffrey Lauffer, a former employee chiropractor of Kompothecras' Physicians Group, revealed details of the questionable relationship between 1-800-ASK-GARY lawyers and physicians. Kompothecras considered it theft of trade secrets, even filing a criminal complaint himself in Sarasota's 12th Judicial Circuit against Lauffer.

"I've been in office 24 years and this is probably the most pressure that we've felt about a case," said Moreland.  "We got constant feedback about...the importance of this case to (Kompothecras)."

Moreland said there were also overtones of political retaliation against his preferred succesor, Brodsky, who had recused himself from the investigation already because he said Kompothecras was supporting his campaign.  But that he too was told there would be political pain if charges weren't brought against Lauffer.

"I fully knew that Dr. Gary was going to hold me accountable for the decision," Brodsky said.  "If Jeffrey Lauffer was not arrested, (I understood) my opponent would be financially funded."

But the prosecutor in charge found Lauffer hadn't committed a crime.  And several months after the denial of prosecution was written, ads started appearing on cable for Brodsky's poorly-funded opponent.

The television and mailed ads for Peter Lombardo were paid for by the "Florida First" PAC, and came immediately after companies controlled by Kompothecras donated the committee at least $150,000.  Kompothecras also made at least six contributions of $500, the maximum, to Lombardo's campaign account from a number of different companies he controls.

While Kompothecras refused several requests for an interview, he provided an e-mail statement through his lawyer:

"I contribute to many causes, Republican & Democratic.  I am a huge proponent of Autism research.  I support Peter Lombardo for State Attorney because he is the best candidate in the race.  Any donation I have made to the Lombardo campaign has been within the laws and limitations set forth by the State of Florida."

But questions remain as to what Kompothecras is expecting in return for his political investment.

"One person, anonymously, with unlimited funds can fund a candidate," Moreland said of Kompothecras' donations to the PAC.  "It might be legal (but) that doesn't make it right.  At the very least, I think the public has the right to know, so when they're making their decisions, they know who is doing what and why."

Illegal Contributions to Lombardo

Lombardo's most recent campaign filings include a $51,100 loan from "The Lombardo Home," a nursing home owned by his wife, as well as $4,150 in loans from his personal law office.

However, since both the nursing home and the law office are incorporated businesses, they are prohibited from loaning more than the maximum contribution ($500), per a 1982 opinion from the Division of Elections.

That would mean all but $1,000 of the loans would be illegal, according to Stetson University constitutional law and political science professor Dr. T. Wayne Bailey.

Furthermore, neither business was mentioned on Lombardo's financial disclosure form, which indicated he had only about $15,000 in liquid assets from which his campaign could loan funds from.  Brodsky added that Lombardo's home was in foreclosure too, adding questions about where the money came from.

Lombardo ignored several requests for comment over a three-week period, while his campaign representative came up with a number of different excuses why Lombardo couldn't meet.  The excuses included campaign meetings, knocking on doors, and "fixing" their "accounting error."

When 10 News went to Lombardo's home, the woman who answered the door got Lombardo on the phone.  He agreed to an interview in his office, but became upset when the topic of the financial errors came up and immediately ended the interview.

Sources tell 10 News that a complaint has been filed regarding Lombardo's appearant campaign finance violations.  But the Florida Elections Commission can neither confirm nor deny receiving reports before investigating probable cause.  If Lombardo is found guilty, he could face felony charges and $150,000 in fines.

Dr. Gary's History of Political Donations

While Kompothecras points out he's donated to candidates from both parties over the years, he has given most heavily to Republicans.  Governor Charlie Crist, Governor Rick Scott, and Congressman Vern Buchanan have all benefited, as have presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney

Romney named Kompothecras a co-chair of his presidential campaign finance team.

Kompothecras has also donated heavily to PACs over the years, with influences in medical research, patients' rights, and medical/legal regulation.

SEARCH: Florida campaign donations

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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