MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — A four-month-long investigation by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office has determined no crimes were committed when Commissioner Vanessa Baugh created a vaccine "VIP list" and added her name to the list.
The investigation began in February when paralegal consultant, Michael Barfield, filed a complaint. The 26-page document was based on Barfield's belief that Baugh's actions violated up to three state statutes: misuse of a public position, official misconduct and misuse of confidential information.
But that's not the case, according to the sheriff's office's findings.
“From the point we received this complaint our goal was to conduct a very thorough investigation. We spent countless hours on this, focusing not only on the statutes mentioned in the complaint, but also examining whether other laws were possibly broken. Nothing criminal was found," Sheriff Rick Wells wrote in a statement.
When it comes to claims of misuse of public position, the sheriff's office says a violation of this statute is not criminal in nature and can not be enforced "under the scope of this investigation."
Investigators did find that evidence "clearly indicated" Baugh knowingly and intentionally attempted to benefit herself and others in the situation but no evidence shows she falsified official records or documents to do so.
The investigation also could not uncover anything that would suggest Baugh and those she added to the "VIP list" gave or received anything of value for their spot.
"I am grateful for the hard work and diligent investigation executed by our Sheriff’s Office, which has confirmed what I have maintained all along- no criminal act occurred in getting vaccines to our most vulnerable and reluctant area. I look forward to putting this distraction behind me and refocusing this energy on reducing traffic, lowering taxes and revising the alarming growth in the size and scope of our local government," Baugh wrote in a statement to 10 Tampa Bay.
Overall, the sheriff's office finds the investigation to be one of ethical based issues rather than criminal ones. Investigators say one might find that Baugh was attempting to "curry political favor" with Rex Jensen, Gov. DeSantis and her constituents with her actions, but those acts don't warrant criminal charges.
"Barring new evidence coming to light in the future, there is no probable cause to charge Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh with a criminal offense at this time," an investigative report stated.
Baugh's actions first came into question when she admitted to selecting two specific ZIP codes for the pop-up vaccination site and then asked for herself and four others to be added to the list of those being inoculated.
Her request, which was sent to Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur, included asking for vaccination slots for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen and Lawrence Jensen, who do not live in the designated ZIP codes, and Robert and Marie Keehn, who live near Baugh.
Baugh later expressed remorse over the decision saying, “I want to apologize to all the residents who I have disappointed in any action that I’ve taken according to some news outlets."
The sheriff's office says it has sent its investigative report to the Florida Commission on Ethics and will provide no further comment due to an ongoing investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
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