EDITORIAL: Don’t Ask the Sheriff Tough Questions and You Won’t Get Hurt – How Corruption Runs the Show
By Tom Lemons
Let me begin by clarifying a few things before the individuals and organizations mentioned in this editorial enter their war rooms to launch coordinated attacks against this reporter. It’s unfortunate that it has even come to the point, where a reporter must write an editorial in response to immature personal attacks by the top law enforcement officer in Hernando County. But as the President and CEO of RNRF, I must respond to claims made by Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis that RNRF publishes “Fake News.”
This is an editorial… That means I am going to provide my opinion on issues that contain both fact-based information and conjecture. Also, want to make if very clear that RNRF supports law enforcement and our loyalty lies with the men and women who risk their lives to protect the citizens of Hernando County, not politicians whose primary role it is to ensure a stable budget and represent the agency when reporting information to the media – clearly an area that leaves a lot to be desired.
As stated above, the office of Hernando County Sheriff is a political office that requires the candidate to be elected by a majority vote or appointed by a sitting Governor. Sheriff Al Nienhuis, a Republican, acquired his position through an appointment by former Governor Charlie Crist, whose fluid political identity has changed from Republican to Independent, to now Democrat. I apologize for the history lesson, but it has contextual relevance to this editorial.
Last week, RNRF published a report on claims made by a national organization that Hernando County might be considered a “Sanctuary County” (CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL ARTICLE). The story drew an equal amount of criticism directed at RNRF and Sheriff Nienhuis
The headline read, “Illegal Aliens Released From Custody Without Notifying ICE, Hernando At Risk Of Losing Federal Funding, Say Experts.” We also used a screenshot from one of our sources and posed the questions, “Is (the operative word “is”) Hernando County a Sanctuary County?” Well, some readers evidently overlooked the question mark, as did Nienhuis, and decided that RNRF stated, “Hernando County is a Sanctuary County.”
This is what transpired; at 1:00 p.m. on December 6th, I sent an email to HCSO spokesperson Michael Terry and Copied Sheriff Al Neinhuis, asking the following questions: “I ran a story yesterday about a Canadian woman who was arrested in Hernando County on theft charges. She has a long criminal history, including felony convictions in another county, yet she has not been deported back to Canada.
Has or will the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office contact the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a review of her eligibility to remain in the United States?
With people already claiming that Hernando County is a sanctuary county, this would be a good way of either debunking or confirming those claims.” Surprisingly, instead of receiving answers to my inquiry, Spokesperson Denise Moloney stepped away from her vacation at 10:00 p.m. that same evening to say, “As you know, I, along with Michael Terry, are the liaisons between the media and the HCSO. We are responsible for, and are responsive to, all requests for public records made by members of the media. With that being said, please communicate directly with me or Micheal Terry if you have a public records request. Please discontinue emailing Sheriff Nienhuis and/or Colonel Maurer for such matters.” I responded, “Duly noted… Regarding my email to Michael and the Sheriff about the Canadian Citizen, currently held at the County Jail, will I receive a response to that request? Also, could you please ask the Sheriff to comment on the Center for Immigration Studies’ November 2017 determination that Hernando County is at risk of losing federal funding? I was hoping to have an article together by morning.” Not surprisingly, I never received a response.
Fast forward to December 7th at 10:00 a.m. – I post the “dreaded” article.
Less than 5-hours after publishing, Sheriff Nienhuis lashed out at RNRF, calling my report, “Fake News.” I’m not going to repost his entire statement but Facebook users can follow this link to read the ensuing viewer comments, “Sheriff Reaffirms Hernando County is not a Sanctuary.”
RNRF isn’t the first or the only news agency to write articles on information provided by the controversial Centers for Immigration Studies (CIS) website. RNRF wrote two prior articles on the issue; the first on the heels of Kathryn Steinle’s homicide in 2015, and a second article in January of this year on the assertion by CIS that Hernando County as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.
It wasn’t until I learned that CIS had added Hernando County to their list of jurisdictions at risk of losing federal funding that I decided to take another look. And as of now, despite what Sheriff Nienhuis says, CIS still has Hernando County listed as one of only two jurisdictions at risk.
When Tampa Bay Times staff writer, Kathryn Varn, asked Nienhuis to comment on her March 2017 article, spokesperson Denise Moloney replied, “Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis is aware that the county is considered a sanctuary… He’s considering a response but hasn’t yet made a decision on how to address it.”
Nearly every news outlet in Florida has written multiple articles on Hernando County and they all cite the CIS
Now, with all concerns of whether I conducted myself in a professional manner behind us, the one question that remains is why RNRF is the only news source to be crucified on the HCSO Facebook page for writing an article on the issue of sanctuary jurisdictions. The answer to that question might lie within a much more personal controversy than immigration. I’m talking about allegations that Nienhuis is covering up criminal activity inside Dawn Center, a local taxpayer funded domestic violence shelter. I’m sure most of you are already aware of accusations made by several women who claim the Dawn Center is a “Hell Hole,” but just in case you haven’t, here is a link to the most recent article: https://www.rnrfonline.com/amid-child-welfare-concerns-and-numerous-hearing-impaired-violations-millions-paid-in-shelter-employee-compensation/ You can also search “Dawn Center: in the RNRF search bar for additional articles.
In the essence of time and to prevent our viewers from enduring a lengthy recap that will only conflate the issues, please refer to our past articles as a prolog to the following.
The iniquitous relationship between Sheriff Nienhuis and the embattled non-profit has become so unambiguous that to believe there is no wrong-doing is akin to believing Charles Manson walked through the Pearly Gates. If it weren’t the case, then why would the Sheriff, a current board member and past president of the organization, approve of and most likely oversee a slander campaign against RNRF.
For example, it was recently discovered that Nienhuis, Director Shannon Sokolowski, and top administrator, April Johnson, approved the placement of a poster aimed at warning Dawn Center occupants. That poster reads in part, “Please inform staff immediately if you are contacted by this person [Tom Lemons] or any person representing Real News Real Fast. Your safety is of utmost importance to Dawn Center and we want to alert law enforcement as soon as possible if he is seen in the area or approaches any resident.” Why would the Sheriff endorse a slander campaign against a Hernando County citizen and local small business owner, when there is absolutely no truth to RNRF attempting to contact Dawn Center occupants at the facility? Oh, here’s why. . .
Unfortunately, at the advice of my attorney, I have been asked not to give away too many details into evidence we have against certain individuals, so I will just have to provide an outline of those who are “associated” and let you connect the dots.
At the top, we have State Representative, Chairman of the Florida Republican Party, and ex-officio board member of Dawn Center, Blaise Ingoglia. County Commissioner and Chairman of the Hernando County Republican Party, John Allocco, a huge supporter of and guaranteed vote for anything the Sheriff demands. And of course, the connection wouldn’t be complete unless Allocco’s wife, Randi Allocco, joined the BOD of Dawn Center, which closes the circuit on the corrupt political springboard. Finally, if you look closely at the number of members who sit on the Rotary Club of Brooksville board of directors, you will see a peculiar intermingling of the same board members and their wives.
Now you can see why the Sheriff and none of his cohorts will answer to the vast number of community concerns, regarding unhealthy living conditions, child abuse, prostitution, substance abuse, and violence occurring inside the clandestine compound. They don’t care about the women inside the facility, they only care about having a praiseworthy accolade added to their political resume’. And isn’t it funny that the Sheriff’s immigration attack came on the heels of the latest Dawn Center expose’ that showed numerous inspection violations and a disproportionately high salary ratio to total revenue?
During a follow up investigation into the unprecedented “love affair” between Dawn Center and the Sheriff, RNRF requested all emails sent between both parties that pertained to RNRF or Tom Lemons. Not surprisingly, I was met with another roadblock. Instead of providing the correspondence, the agency’s in-house attorney, Joel Fritton, blocked my request with a legal loophole that prevented those specific emails from becoming public record. But Fritton “assured” me that I wouldn’t find anything disparaging within any emails – of course not. “I don’t recall with certainty, but I am very confident that both your name and/or rnrf were absent from the queried results,” said Fritton, “And we did speak about your concerns of dawn center employees directing people who patronize the dawn center and others from speaking with you.”
It should be noted that my attorney has made several demands to have the poster removed, but to no avail. As a matter of fact, instead of quelling their efforts to destroy my business, Dawn Center administrator, April Johnson, launched a boycott to try and force my advertisers to pull out. Unfortunately, the Sheriff and his cronies succeeded in convincing at least four of my long-time advertisers to sever ties with RNRF. But don’t worry about RNRF, with over 35,000 loyal supporters, we aren’t folding anytime soon.
RNRF viewers believe in transparency and they don’t take too kindly to politicians pulling the wool over their eyes.
But I’m not the only casualty in the “Oligarchy’s” war on transparency and fair governing, Brooksvillians are also facing a similar nightmare in trying to protect their beloved Police and Fire Departments from being engulfed by “Nienhuis the Terrible.” We’ll save that story for another time.
In closing, I would like to say that the relationship between Sheriff Nienhuis and RNRF hasn’t always been sour. As a matter of fact, on numerous occasions I have provided video, photographs, and testimony, to help with criminal investigations. In addition, the Sheriff often requests that I cover his budget presentations, so that the community is kept informed on how their tax dollars are being spent.
It’s really too bad that shady politics plays a part in our local government and that a single non-profit has so much influence over the County Commission and our Sheriff, but that seems to be the case.
Ironically, the notion that if you disapprove of the Sheriff somehow make you anti-law enforcement, sounds eerily similar to power and control tactics that Dawn Center advocates say abusers use on their victims. Power and Control is an understatement.
DAWN CENTER ARTICLES:
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