State investigators found no evidence mayor blackmailed a commissioner in North Bay Village

A criminal investigation into mysterious letters sent to a former North Bay Village commissioner has been closed and there is no evidence that Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps was involved in any alleged blackmail. That’s according to a brief email sent late Friday to the village commission by Village Attorney Norman Powell citing an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Attorney’s Office.

"Glad to see the SAO has verified what we have known all along. That there was nothing there," Leon-Kreps responded. "I am glad it’s over and we can move on with the village business."

The FDLE launched an investigation into the mayor in the summer of 2017, after former North Bay Village Commissioner Douglas Hornsby told the commission that he was being blackmailed over a 30-year-old felony in Tennessee for selling cocaine.

He believed that it was Leon-Kreps, along with another commissioner’s wife, Mary Kramer, and their friend Ana Watson who had delivered the letters containing his criminal history and the question: "Did you have a pardon to have your voter’s rights restored?" Hornsby thought he knew what they meant: Vote to fire village manager Frank Rollason or have this information exposed.

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Attached to Powell’s email was a copy of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s close-out memo, which indicates investigators from the FDLE found no evidence that the mayor or her friends were involved in the alleged crime. The investigation was quietly closed on May 15. The memo also suggested that the letters received by Hornsby containing his criminal history may not even count as blackmail because the documents were not accompanied by a written threat.

"Where’s the quid pro quo?" Powell has been asking for weeks. Powell said just sending a copy of a criminal history is not enough to constitute blackmail. The mayor has always denied all involvement.

“There’s no threat. There’s nothing there," said Powell. "We spent a year of destroying these people’s reputation for nothing.”

Powell emailed the memo, written two weeks earlier, less than 12 hours after former Police Chief Carlos Noriega filed a federal lawsuit against the village alleging that he was fired, in part, for his involvement in the FLDE investigation into whether the mayor had any role in the alleged blackmail. Powell stated that Noriega’s "whistle-blower" lawsuit was unfounded.

“He’s using this process to gain some type of political advantage," said Powell. "And when I sat down with the State Attorney they said the same thing.”

Noriega said the revelations in the close-out memo do not change anything about his opinion of the case, or his status as a whistle-blower. He said at the time he was fired, his investigators had found what they believed was a definitive link between the blackmail, the mayor, and her friends.

"It was clear that we had something there that needed to be investigated. We contacted FDLE right away," said Noriega. The act of informing authorities is what should have given him whistle-blower protection, according to his lawyer, Eugene Gibbons. And Noriega still believes there’s more worth investigating.

Hornsby’s allegations weren’t the first time Leon-Kreps was accused of using someone’s criminal history against them. Former commissioner Richard Chervony said that years before Hornsby received a letter, documents relating to Chervony’s own 30-year-old criminal charge were mailed to his whole neighborhood after he had a disagreement with the mayor.

“She didn’t have her return address on it but it was Connie," said Chervony, who has been neighbors with the mayor for more than 20 years. “I will not accuse her of blackmail because nothing was asked in return."

The mayor has described Chervony, Noriega and Hornsby as members of a "good ol’ boys club" within city government that has always had a problem with a woman in charge.

Though it found no evidence of criminal activity, the FDLE investigation did not come up empty-handed.

Related stories from Miami Herald

Police chief was fired while investigating mayor. Now he’s filed a whistle-blower suit.

Investigators found that Hornsby’s criminal history was requested by the law offices of Mary Kramer. In an interview with the State Attorney’s Office, Kramer denied sending the letter to Hornsby. She justified pulling the records, saying she represented residents of the village who were concerned about Hornsby’s eligibility to vote on the commission. She did not divulge their names but said she did not believe that any of them had sent the letter to Hornsby.

And there was also evidence of vague threats against Hornsby. Prior to the letters being put in his mailbox, according to the FDLE investigation, Watson requested the former commissioner’s help with something related to her condo association and became upset when he refused. In an email she wrote, "I hope everyone is ready for what’s next." In the cryptic message she said something was going to happen on Friday and Hornsby was going to claim to be the victim. Watson was later arrested for criminal fraud in a matter related to her role on the board of her condo association. She is currently awaiting trial.

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Irene Jensen