• Case against former Groveland mayor closed, no charges filed


    GROVELAND, Fla. - An investigation into possible sunshine law violations by Groveland City Council members was closed after state officials said the allegations were unfounded.

    A memo from Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson that says the allegations against former mayor James Gearhart were unfounded officially closed the case.

    City Council candidate George Rosario was on the campaign trail on Thursday, a day he said should mark the end to the fighting at city hall.

    "When accusations are raised like that, you go to places and people look at you like you got three heads," Rosario said.

    Rosario said he knew that Gearhart did nothing wrong. Gearhart was the subject of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation launched in 2013 into a handful of complaints, including alleged violations of the sunshine law. But both FDLE and the State Attorney's Office have dropped the case because probable cause did not exist.

    The former mayor told WFTV's Berndt Petersen through text messages that the investigation was a "big waste of taxpayers' money."

    Gearhart blamed the ordeal on his political enemies, including former and current City Council members.

    "The hard part for me is forgiving all of them," he said in a text message.

    Gearhart resigned from office during the height of the investigation, citing the strain on his family.

    "I truly believe when you start going on a witch hunt and bring up issues that are not there, those individuals need to come out and publicly apologize," Rosario said.

    Several top Groveland officials resigned in 2013, including the police chief and city manager. Some of them blamed a hostile work environment for their resignation.

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    Case against former Groveland mayor closed, no charges filed