What do you call the federal indictment of a former State Representative on charges of wire fraud related to campaign finance violations?
A good start.
It’s also a tragically sad ending for an important local role model.
On Thursday, former State Representative – and Daytona Beach City Commissioner – Dwayne Taylor, was indicted on nine counts of wire fraud by federal prosecutors in Florida’s Middle District following allegations that he claimed thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures to conceal ATM withdrawals and checks written to himself in violation of state campaign law – and United States Code.
If convicted, Taylor faces a maximum penalty of 20-years in federal prison on each count.
Per the grand jury indictment, in an abominably dumb move, Taylor saw fit to appoint himself as his own campaign treasurer – a dubious practice permitted by current campaign finance law – during his 2012 and 2014 runs.
Apparently, he made the illegal withdrawals, totaling approximately $2,800, in nine transactions between June 2012 and August 2016.
Federal prosecutors claim that Taylor fraudulently reported the embezzled funds as petty cash.
In addition, the indictment seeks a monetary judgement of some $62,834 in campaign funds, “representing the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the offense charged in Counts one through nine.”
Clearly, this would exceed the $100 per week permitted for office supplies, transportation, and other petty essentials directly related to a candidate’s campaign activities.
In 2008, voters elected Taylor as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, initially representing the 27th District. In 2012, following redistricting, he was reelected to the Florida House representing the 26th District.
Then, in 2015, Mr. Taylor announced his intention to run for the Volusia County Chair before changing tack and launching a campaign for Florida’s Sixth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives – the post now held by Rep. Ron DeSantis.
A cursory check of Mr. Taylor’s campaign contribution reports finds all the right local players represented. Typical of Volusia County politics, each of our uber-wealthy High Panjandrums of Political Power contributed to Taylor’s various campaigns – if just to hedge their bets.
Was Dwayne Taylor a stand-out politician? Hardly.
But he was a true Daytona Beach success story – and that is a rarity – something that comes around about as often as the Comet Kohouteck.
Taylor grew up in humble beginnings in the tough Daytona Village Section 8 project, which, prior to a recent renovation, was a deteriorating collection of dreadfully challenged block apartments in the crime infested area between Keech Street and Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard.
He was living proof to thousands of kids that anything is possible.
Dwayne Taylor embodied the promise that with hard work, and a dedication to education, you can go from the bottom of Daytona Beach to the halls of power in Tallahassee and beyond.
In 1996, I had the distinct honor of graduating from the Federal Bureau of Investigations National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Alumni of that distinguished program have adopted a quote by President John F. Kennedy which guides our professional ethics – and our personal commitment to the highest ideals of public service:
“For those to whom much is given, much is required.”
Our elected and appointed officials could learn something from that valuable aphorism.
For over thirty years I made my living in local government service.
From the earliest days, my superiors drilled into me the importance of preserving the public trust – the foundation upon which government derives its moral authority and legitimacy.
Now retired Chief John P. Finn told me the day I was hired, “I won’t abide a thief or a liar – and of the two – I’d rather have the thief.”
He demanded complete honesty from the law enforcement officers under his command – in all aspects of our service, on-duty and off – and it was doom for anyone who quibbled the facts, bore false witness or spoke an untruth.
After don’t touch a hot stove, it was the best life-lesson I ever had.
Truth, or consequences.
Perhaps it was my chief’s strong commitment to professional integrity – or my parents early influence – but whenever I faced an ethical dilemma during my career, I got a weird feeling in my core alerting me that the choice I faced was illegal, immoral or unethical.
It never failed.
I might have ignored it on occasion – after all, whisky and bad decisions will be my epitaph – but that sensation of right-and-wrong has never let me down.
I think we all have that internal alarm – call it a conscience, or an ethical sixth sense – but unless you’re a depraved psychopath it’s what keeps most of us on the straight and narrow path of righteousness.
Unfortunately, there are a few elected and appointed to high office who believe the rules no longer apply.
Locally, you need look no further than the Debacle in DeBary to see the damage a mob mentality, fueled by unbridled hubris and revenge politics, can have on a community – or the ethically questionable Volusia County money-shuffle, cloaked as ‘economic development’ incentives, which always seem to benefit top tier campaign donors, or interests and industries close to them.
It’s no better at the federal level where politics has literally become a blood sport.
Perhaps our local officials can learn something from Mr. Taylor’s tragic example.
But I doubt it.
In my view, the time has come for local governments throughout Volusia County to take a long hard look at themselves, and this bastardized system of insider politics that continues to spiral out-of-control.
Look, I’m not talking about an elected official who goes back on a campaign promise – or changes political allegiances in mid-stream – those stories are as old as time.
I am talking about the behind-the-scenes machinations and murky ‘wink-wink’ deals that divert public funds, property and resources to private interests.
Something tells me that Mr. Taylor isn’t the only local politician who will have trouble sleeping tonight.
The prospect of a cumulative 180-years in federal prison will have that effect.
Unfortunately, the anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that he isn’t the first – or the last – area politician or appointed official who has crossed the line.
I hope the U.S. Attorney’s Office focuses its powerful resources on the ‘Fun Coast’ and restores the public’s trust in our system of governance.
It is time for a reckoning.