NewsTreasure CoastRegion Martin County


Video interviews released of Martin County commissioners charged with violating public records laws

Posted at 11:55 PM, Jan 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 23:56:50-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - Three current and former Martin County Commissioners now face criminal charges for violating public records laws.

Ed Fielding and former Commissioner Anne Scott were arrested in November.

Sarah Heard was arrested Thursday, as well as Anne Scott, for a second time.

The State Attorney’s Office said it has now concluded its 9-month investigation into the Lake Point public records concerns.

The investigation centered around whether county leaders intentionally broke the law, by not providing public records or fulfilling requests in a timely manner by a company called Lake Point.

Lake Point started requesting emails between the commissioners and a private citizen, environmental activist and former Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla when Lake Point representatives feared Hurchalla was secretly emailing commissioners to influence their decisions about possibly ending Lake Point’s contract with the county.

Friday, the State Attorney’s Office released some discovery in the case, including some emails and video interviews from each of the three commissioners now facing criminal charges.

In a statement, the State Attorneys Office state, "During the course of the 9-month-long investigation, investigators learned that Commissioners Fielding, Scott, and Heard had used private email accounts to conduct public business, and had failed to disclose public records from those accounts, when requested to do so, in numerous public records requests for records pertaining to the “Lake Point Project” in western Martin County

In newly released discovery, Sarah Heard is seen in interviews from 2014 and in 2017. In 2017, attorneys and investigators question her about her private email account.

Lake Point claimed Heard never released emails from that server, which would have fallen under their records request.

“I always comply with public records requests,” Heard said. She stated that her email account was hacked twice, including right after the date when Lake Point requested emails from that account.

“Everything disappeared,” Heard said.

The investigator questioning her asked, “Would it surprise you if I were to tell you that the expert concluded there was no evidence of hacking on the computer?”

Heard responded, “That would surprise me very much.”

Heard is also accused of altering emails.

In an interview in 2014, Ed Fielding is questioned about where he obtained his information about Lake Point. “Have you reviewed any of the studies concerning the environmental that the Lake Point Project would provide?” Fielding responded, “No.” The investigator also asked, “How about minutes from the Water Management District board?” Fielding replied, “ How about that. How about that. Same category. No.”

Later in the interview, investigators ask Fielding about an email from Maggie Hurchalla expressing her disapproval of the Lake Point Project. He confirms receiving the email. Investigators ask why he decided he would call for a vote to end the Lake Point Project after receiving that email. “Well, she had some requests,” Fielding said. “Those requests had you initiating a vote to terminate the contract, right?” The investigator asked. “I wouldn’t say that. She has some concern about the contract and that was a suggestion she made as a possible alternative to meeting her objectives," Fielding answered.

In Anne Scott’s 2016 interview, she’s questioned about why she did not make more of an effort to turn over emails under the records request.

“Looking back, would there have been any harm in you going to the IT department in 2014 with your computer asking them to look for the emails?” An investigator asked.

"Any harm? I have no idea. It’s speculation, what harm could there have been?”

WPTV also learned Heard was offered a plea deal in November to resign, and in return, she might have been able to avoid criminal charges. She turned down that offer. 

Her attorney, Barbara Kibbey-Wagner, said she now believes the criminal charges are an act of retaliation for not taking the plea.

Wagner released the following statement:

Commissioner Sarah Heard, for more than 15 years, has been a tireless advocate, seeking to protect and preserve the environment and special community of Martin County that we all enjoy. This has made her the target of attacks from big land developers and "big business". The indictment yesterday, while unfortunate, came as no surprise to Comm. Heard and the Defense. We feel that this indictment was purely an act of retaliation after Comm. Heard refused to plead guilty and resign from office for the noncriminal citation- a charge that she was given no evidence or facts from the State Attorney's office.  We fully intend to make the retaliation issue a matter for the Court to decide in the upcoming weeks. 
Comm. Heard thanks the community for their outpouring of support during this time, and looks forward to a full vindication at her trial by jury.