ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, who is up for reelection this fall, will not face criminal charges related to allegations of altering department documents.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it investigated allegations that Singh destroyed documents at his office after a series of 9 Investigates reports into his spending habits.
In a statement, Singh’s office said the investigation was “based upon bogus claims in a frivolous lawsuit,” and that “there was never any merit or proof to back up the charges.”
“From the beginning, I’ve said that this lawsuit was financially and politically motivated,” Singh said in the statement.
Assistant state attorneys Melissa Clark and Andrew Urbanak wrote in a document dated Thursday that after being provided “thousands of pages of documents and many hours of recorded witness interviews” from FDLE as part of their investigation, “there is insufficient evidence to establish criminal activity beyond a reasonable doubt.”
They wrote that it is clear that Singh’s office did not follow protocol when it submitted documents for a 2015 audit, which was a cornerstone of the investigation.
“The act, however, of submitting altered documents in Counts I-X, did not rise to the level of a crime in this case because there is no evidence of a ‘benefit’ to Rick Singh as a result of those alterations,” they wrote.
They said the only alleged benefit Singh received from the alterations was avoiding scrutiny or political criticism or consequences, which is a stretch to prove legally.
“There is no legal precedent for the theory that avoiding political criticism/consequences under this factual scenario is unlawful,” they concluded.
The 9th Circuit State Attorney’s Office, represented by State Attorney Aramis Ayala, which includes Orange County, was originally given the FDLE findings, but due to a conflict of interest, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reassigned the case to the 7th Circuit based in Volusia County.
Ayala’s office released the follow statement regarding the conclusion of the investigation:
“Earlier this year I requested an Executive Order because I was concerned about the appearance of a conflict and also because I believed the end result would be truth and justice. By chance, we did get the truth. This community did not however get justice and that is regrettable.
I am pleased to know the investigation did reveal that public documents were in fact altered but deceptively presented by Mr. Singh as original. These facts were unfortunately hidden from the public when Belvin Perry denied them in the internal investigation he was hired to conduct on behalf of the Orange County Property Appraiser's Office.
This case is an example of how the law can be used to justify a desired outcome. The law should be a tool that gets justice for the people, not one that protects the powerful. Far more than a difference in opinion or perspective, this is a violation of public trust. "
Singh will be on the ballot for the primary election on Aug. 18. He was first elected in 2012 before being reelected in 2016. He is facing two Democratic opponents, Amy Mercado and Khalid Muneer.
© 2020 Cox Media Group