ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Calls for the newly-appointed sheriff of St. Lucie County to be removed from his office ramped up Wednesday with the Republican Party of St. Lucie County urging the governor to reverse the appointment.
The St. Lucie County Republican Party held a news conference calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to take action just days after he appointed Keith Pearson to the post last Friday.
"The appointment of a corrupt sheriff is not only a threat to justice but also a challenge to the very existence of our democracy," St. Lucie County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Kenny Nail said in a statement.
Nail said the Republican Party sent a letter to the governor, calling for Pearson's removal and an ethics investigation.
The corruption allegations, Nail said, stem from the findings of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation that said Pearson helped a ghost candidate beat out a legitimate candidate opposing Sheriff Ken Mascara in 2020, helping Mascara win the race.
Pearson is accused of helping create and place signs for Kevin Carter throughout the community. The FDLE said Carter told investigators he ran as a "favor" to Ken Mascara, and that Mascara "talked [him] into it."
An FDLE report stated that Pearson allowed Carter's team to use his workshop in his yard to make Carter campaign signs.
However, Pearson maintains he did not know Carter was a ghost candidate. Other witnesses told FDLE that Pearson and Mascara were seen together placing signs. Kevin Carter told FDLE that Pearson was in charge of making his signs.
The FDLE recommended criminal charges, stating that "Pearson performed said actions to assist Ken Mascara to siphon votes from established Republican candidate Rich Williams in the 2020 St. Lucie County Sheriff race."
However, the state attorney in an outside judicial circuit did not file charges, citing insufficient evidence, particularly a lack of evidence showing how money was spent.
"This man is unethical. He should not even be our dog catcher," Nail said. "There's no doubt in my mind this man knew what he was doing. He was part of this, and he needs to be removed and should actually resign if he has any integrity at all."
Region St Lucie County
Fellow Republicans call for new sheriff to be removed
Pearson responded to calls for him to step down, releasing a Wednesday statement that said, in part:
"I intend on using action—making and enforcing our laws and keeping our community safe—to earn the honor of this appointment, and all I ask of our other elected officials is that they give me and the men and women of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office the chance to prove to them what we can do."
St. Lucie County Commission Chair Cathy Townsend, also a Republican, said she would have liked to see someone appointed who does not have political aspirations. Pearson has filed to run for sheriff in 2024.
"I'm blindsided like everyone else in this county by the appointment and how a lieutenant bypassed majors and captains," Townsend said. "I truly do hope he can be a team player and step up to the plate because I'm truly concerned about our law enforcement at this time."
Townsend also said she does not feel confident the appointment will be reversed and that Pearson will serve a year-long appointment.
Nail said the governor's office has not responded to calls and letters.
WPTV is also still waiting for a response from the governor's office or Mascara.