Palm Coast City Council member Victor Barbosa this afternoon addressed the revelation last week that the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office considers him “likely” to be a fugitive from justice in Costa Rica, and that the agency has requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Barbosa. The councilman, elected last November in a special election, has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice since June 30.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement this afternoon confirmed to FlaglerLive that a preliminary inquiry has begun regarding Barbosa.
“As to the recent news, I just want to say that it’s news to me,” Barbosa told the council. “I’ve not been contacted by any law enforcement. This is my community, and I ran to represent the people, and will continue to do so. That’s all I have to say.” It wasn’t, quite.
Barbosa delivered his brief statement at the end of a workshop that stretched past the five-hour mark. He didn’t stop at that, swerving into a political statement in defense of Alan Lowe, the candidate for Palm Coast mayor, after Mayor Eddie Branquinho had requested of the city attorney to explain where the allegations against Barbosa left the council, regarding Barbosa’s continuation of service. Branquinho’s own remarks then triggered yet another verbal brawl involving Barbosa and fellow-Councilman Ed Danko. The workshop had not lacked for tense moments. Its coda was only the latest display of intemperance that required another intervention from City Attorney Bill Reischmann, reminding the members of their responsibility to conduct themselves civilly.
It started innocuously, with Reichmann explaining the council’s role, and lack of any role, at this stage in the Barbosa allegations.
“Before this council would have the jurisdiction to take any action, things would have to happen that have not happened,” Reischmann said. A forfeiture of office, for example, would only occur if a council member was convicted of a felony. To suspend the council member, “there would have to be the issuance of an indictment or an information.” An “information” is the charging document issued by the State Attorney’s Office, indicating an intent to prosecute. A charging affidavit from a law enforcement agency like the Sheriff’s Office or a city police agency isn’t enough. It has to be ratified with an “information.”
“And based upon the record that I’ve seen, that has not occurred yet, but that would be the steps that would be the process,” Reischmann said, at least regarding the city charter. There’s also a state law, the attorney. “This deals with the governor’s power, and that’s where the governor would have to find that there has been an arrest for a felony. And that has not happened. That’s in chapter 112 subsection 51.” That provision of law give the governor–not the council–the authority to remove an elected official from a seat.
Branquinho empathized with Barbosa at that point, about “how unfair this could be to someone who according to Mr. Barbosa did nothing wrong, and being accused of something like that.”
On July 6, the Sheriff’s Office wrote the FDLE commissioner, requesting that FDLE investigate the sheriff’s findings that Barbosa appears to be wanted in Costa Rica on charges of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, extortion and assault with a weapon, according to documents provided by the Sheriff’s Office. FDLE spokesperson Gretl Plessinger this afternoon said the agency is reviewing the sheriff’s information. “An investigation starts with a review,” she said, describing that step as a preliminary investigation. “It’s to a full-blown investigation when it’s in the review stage,” and the inquiry can end at the review stage or lead to a full-blown investigation, based on what’s uncovered, she said. But it can also take an indeterminate amount of time, even at the preliminary stage, with interviews, the gathering of documents and so on.
Picking up on Branquinho’s comment, Barbosa spoke about how “sad” it was that “people could go on national television, and state that somebody was involved in a bombing.” It was an allusion to Alan Lowe, the candidate for Palm Coast mayor in the July 27 election, who had in his early 30s declared himself a “sovereign citizen” no longer answerable to American law. He did so in the early 90s, when the “sovereign citizen” movement was gaining traction among a subset of right-wing extremists and militias, one of whom masterminded the Oklahoma City federal bombing in 1995.
It isn’t clear what Barbosa was referring to as far as people going on “national television.” No local race is advertising on national television, though some are advertising on local cable networks that show local ads targeted at the Palm Coast market only, but in the course of shows shown nationally on national networks. (In other words, no one in Ottumwa, Iowa, is seeing television ads for Palm Coast mayoral candidates.) Nor is it clear what ads he was referring to, though he and Lowe have been complaining in similar terms on social media about David Alfin, one of the candidates, allegedly disseminating the link between Lowe and the sovereign citizen movement. (The link is accurate so far as the early 1990s were concerned. Lowe’s involvement in any bombings is not.) Still, Barbosa claimed, “They are saying that someone has bombed buildings in America, and they’re running for mayor.”
“I let you speak your mind even though I’m not too, too fond of politicking in here,” Branquinho said, before addressing issues of his own. He brought up the unsubstantiated claim by Danko last week that ex-Mayor Milissa Holland was facing criminal charges, and resigned because, according to Danko, she was given a choice either to resign or face the charges. Danko would reveal neither the “senior” law enforcement official he claims gave him the information or so much as the person’s agency, when Branquinho asked. Branquinho also asked to be briefed by the same alleged person. But he never heard from that person, he said today–and hinted that Danko would face “what I feel it’s going to be legal action towards you.”
Then, referring to a critical image he’d been sent showing him and Council member Nick Klufas, and questioning who he’d endorse, he told Barbosa: “I don’t know if I should kill you with kindness or indulge you with my sarcasm, but then again I don’t think you’re bright enough to see the difference.” Danko for a moment thought Barbosa was addressing him, which caused another loud spat between all three of them. “You can talk to me as a person, but don’t yell at me,” Barbosa said. Branquinho again repeated his line about kindness and sarcasm.
“Are you stating that I’m stupid?” Barbosa asked. Branquinho continued to speak over him. The two then argued more–about Facebook, about each other–before Reischmann stopped them and did what he’s done several times since last November: “I would simply remind everyone, everyone, that we have a responsibility to represent all the public up here, and try to keep our mark remarks consistent with our rules of procedure and our oath of civility.”
“Sometimes civility, as much as you try to, you can only take so much,” Branquinho said, before turning to the attorney and city manager for their final comments. They had none.
The segment had not been all burlesque. Branquinho had started it with a compliment toward City Manager Denise Bevan, who Danko last week, again on no evidence, had pledged to fire as soon as he has the votes. “Denise Bevan is doing a great job,” Barbosa said. “And we need to remember that she graciously volunteered to help our city in a time of need.”