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Tea party political star responds to charges of a criminal past

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Tea party political star responds to charges of a criminal past

By Warren Wright. CREATED Apr 28, 2014

FORT MYERS, Fla.- A rising Republican star is facing as questions about his past. 

Byron Donalds has been embraced by the titans of the GOP - from the tea party, to Governor Rick Scott, to congressional candidate Curt Clawson. 
 
But there's one part of Donalds' story that hasn't been told much - if at all - since he's become a well known face in politics. 
 
The Saint Peters Blog has revealed it has documents showing Donalds has a criminal history.
 
These revelations are coming to light as the Florida State Senate considers whether to approve Governor Scott's nomination of Donalds to the Edison State Board of Trustees. 
 
Donalds claims he's the victim of a politically motivated attack.
 
"In politics, people will do anything to maintain power and authority... I think its wrong," Donalds says.
 
Donalds won't say who those "people" are when Fox 4 asked him to be specific.
 
But he blames them for revealing his record which had been sealed by a court order. 
 
The Saint Peters Blog states that, in 1997, there was a misdemeanor arrest for distribution of marijuana.  
 
In 2000, it claims there was a second degree felony for receiving a bribe. 
 
Donalds says those claims are inaccurate. 
 
He claims he was arrested for possession of pot - not distribution. 
 
And he says the second offense was for "theft" - not taking a bribe. 
 
Donalds elaborated on the second case.
 
"15 years ago, I came in contact with a girl.  She offered me a $1000 for my debit card and pin number and I gave it to her.  I never got the $1000 but I had to make restitution to the bank in excess of $7,000.00," says Donalds.
 
Donalds burst onto the political scene as a Tea Party star running for Congress in 2012. 
 
Donalds lost the GOP primary to Trey Radel. But Donalds made a name for himself throughout the campaign by championing tea party causes and criticizing President Obama. 
 
Donalds actually garnered more votes in one of part of the district (Collier county) than Radel himself. 
 
Governor Scott later nominated Donalds to be on the Edison State Board of Trustees.  
 
Donalds was once again front and center during last week's special GOP primary to replace Radel who resigned after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. 
 
He endorsed the eventual winner, Curt Clawson, and had a prominent role the night of Clawson's victory celebration.
 
Donalds and his wife stood by Clawson's side as Clawson gushed over Donalds' support.
 
Donalds himself spoke at the podium before Clawson came out. 
 
The men shared a warm embrace. 
 
With Donalds on one side, and former Congressman Connie Mack on the other, Clawson gave a victory speech that included references to both men. (Clawson faces Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood in the June 24th special general election to replace Radel.)
 
Despite the high profile Donalds has kept, he's never mentioned his past legal troubles. 
 
And virtually nothing was every mentioned about them in the media.
 
They may have been because they documents were ordered to be sealed by the courts.
 
When asked if he regrets not sharing his record with the public sooner, Donalds said yes but continued to focus on who's behind revealing his past issues.
 
"There are political people who want to discredit me and use this against me.  But these are the actions of a young kid.  I can't undo that," says Donalds.
 
Donalds says he's been going to church for the past 15 years, has become a youth counselor and is focusing on being a better husband and father.
 
"I can't undo my mistakes but the only thing I can do is show the man I've become today for my family and community that I love," says Donalds.
 
Donalds stresses he pleaded no contest to the charges.
 
A "no contest" plea means the defendant claims neither guilt or innocence, but accepts the punishment that goes with the charges.
 
FOX 4 News reached out to Governor Rick Scott to ask if and how he conducts background checks on his nominees to the Edison Board of Trustees and if he still supports Donalds.
 
In a statement, the Governor's press office said, "We are confident that Byron will work to provide the students of Edison State College with a high quality education at an affordable price."
 
What do you think? 
 
Should your state senators approve the Governor's choice - Byron Donalds - for the Edison Board of Trustees?
 
What do you think about Donalds' statements about his past?
 
And what do you think about the governor's latest statement on his desire to appoint him to the Edison board ?
 
Call Fox 4 with your opinion: (239) 206-FOX 4. 
 

 

Warren Wright

Warren Wright

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Warren Wright is a video journalist for FOX 4.