The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports candidate Jason A. Steele has been removed from the Broward County Commission District 4 race after the check for his filing fees bounced. Mary Cooney, the candidate liaison at the elections office told the newspaper that state law requires the removal of Steele. “If your check bounces for any reason,” she said, “you are disqualified.” Steele’s check for $3,683.88 did not clear. Steele, a longtime Democrat from Pompano Beach, entered the Commission District 4 race as an NPA (No Party Affiliation) candidate.
Jason Steele’s two week old candidacy has been controversial from the start. On June 20th, just minutes before the filing deadline, Steele filed his campaign paperwork with the Broward Supervisor of Elections office. Included with the campaign paperwork was Steele’s financial disclosure forms. Buddy Nevins of BrowardBeat.com raised questions about Steele’s finances and filing fee. Nevins wrote, “[Steele] reported a $21k negative net worth, but still produced a check for $3,683.88 to qualify for office last week. The suspicion is that Steele entered the race on June 20 just 36 minutes before filing closed to steal votes from another candidate. The suspicion is he got the money from that candidate’s campaign consultant.”
In a telephone interview with RED BROWARD, Jason Steele made it clear he did not want voters to know about his ties to Vicente Thrower, a controversial Pompano Beach community activist. Thrower, a thirty-four year old Democrat, faces a September 2014 trial on four felony counts of unlawful compensation. He was a member of the Pompano Beach Northwest Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). Thrower was arrested in April 2010 for “accepting and not officially disclosing more than $50,000 in consulting fees he received to support three separate business deals involving the city and the CRA.”
Steele stated he has a core group of volunteers to assist him in raising money and delivering his message to voters. He refused to name any of his close advisers. When asked if Vicente Thrower was a part of his team, Steele said, “That’s something I cannot comment on.” When pressed, Steele said he “heard of the name. Let’s just say there’s a possibility, we may share mutual friends and associates.” Given Thrower’s criminal charges, Steele’s reluctance to admit ties to Thrower was understandable.
The Sun-Sentinel reports Steele’s campaign is blaming bloggers and bank fraud for the bounced check. A Supervisor Of Elections Official “said a third party, not the candidate himself, called the office to say that the reason the check bounced was that someone used the check image posted on BrowardBeat.com to commit fraud using his bank account. His account was then frozen, allegedly.” Elections officials debunked that claim. “Cooney said the check was deposited on the 20th, reached his bank on the 23rd and bounced. BrowardBeat’s blog post went up the next day, on June 24.”
Several political insiders have questioned the circumstances surrounding Steele’s campaign bank account. According to paperwork filed with the Supervisor of Elections office, Steele signed his campaign documents and opened an bank account on June 17, 2014 three days before he filed them. Usually, someone must file as a candidate before opening a campaign bank account. This step provides guarantees that contributions and expenditures will be properly recorded.
Other candidates told RED BROWARD they brought campaign documents, stamped by the Supervisor of Elections office, to the bank when opening an account. When we contacted the Wells Fargo branch where Steele opened his account, a banker said campaign documents were not required. The banker said we could open a “sole proprietor account” with two forms of identification and a fifty-dollar deposit. When repeatedly asked about providing campaign documents, another banker on the call said he recalled an issue with a Lighthouse Point candidate but they could open without documents.