A new mailer from a political committee supporting Orange County Commission candidate Susan Makowski charges her opponent Maribel Gomez Codero with turning a blind eye to crimes charged against her son, including grand theft and animal cruelty, and suggests she may have profited from them.
Cordero’s consultant is calling the mailer despicable, untrue, and defamatory, and threatening a libel suit over it.
The mailer, sent this week by Progress and Prosperity for Orange County, an independent committee that is chaired by Makowski’s political consultant John Dowless, declares that Cordero “turned a blind eye” to crimes for which her son Erik Henry Corderogomez, 26, and Patricia Ward Leahy, 40, were arrested and charged earlier this year. The mailer includes language that could suggest that Cordero benefitted from the alleged crimes by accepting and keeping cars her son and Leahy reportedly gave her and her husband.
Corderogomez and Leahy have pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Their cases are pending in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County.
The stark mailer includes a grotesque picture of caged dogs and the headline “Maribel Gomez Cordero helped cruel dog killer bond out and accepted the gift of a BMW from ‘unemployed’ son who was arrested for grand theft.’ It also includes a screen shot from a blog item from Central Florida conservative political activist Jacob Engels, headlined, ‘[Candidate] Tied to Tortuous (sic) Dog Murders, Wild Theft Ring”. The mailer also asks two rhetorical questions: “Would YOU accept an expensive BMW knowing the person who offered it was unemployed and was arrested for grand theft around the same time?” and “Would YOU pay to get a ‘friend’ out of jail who starved their dog to death in a locked cage while zipping off for a two-week Ritz Carlton staycation and also skipped out on paying the $14,000 hotel bill?”
“Maribel Gomez Cordero saw no problem accepting the BMW from her unemployed son who was also arrested days later for grand theft, and she’s still driving it!” the mailer declares. “She got a Porsche in that deal as well,” it continues, referring to a car that Dowless said was given to her husband, Henry Cordero Melendez.
Dowless defended the mailer Thursday, saying the point is that Cordero knew, at least after the arrests, what her son and the woman identified as his girlfriend were alleged to have done. Yet she not only bailed him out in February and her out in October, she accepted and kept the BMW, which she should have assumed was paid for with ill-gotten money, Dowless said. He said voters need to consider how this reflects on her judgment before voting for her for Orange County Commission, and that was the point of the mailer.
“This is way over the line and I’m going to sue,” Steven Meyers, a political consultant and lawyer representing Cordero, said of the mailer.
In a letter he sent to Dowless Thursday, Meyers alleged that the mailers contain “multiple untrue and defamatory allegations against her.”
In the letter, Meyers demanded a public retraction and apology by Friday, or he would file suit the day after next Tuesday’s election. Meyers also vowed to file a complaint against Dowless with the Florida Division of Elections, and against Makowski if she had any advance knowledge of the mailers.
“Not only is your creating and sending these morally despicable, but under Florida law you and Mr. Engels have committed libel,” Meyers wrote to Dowless. “Further, you probably have engaged in defamatory conspiracy with whomever else was involved in approving, preparing and disseminating these mailers, which means that your and anyone involved is jointly and severally liable for all damages.” He went on to charge that likely would include Makowski, in his view.
Dowless said Makowski was aware of the mailer in advance but that he did not give her authority to approve or reject it, just a heads-up.
Makowski and Cordero are fighting to be elected in the Orange County Commission’s District 4, covering much of southeast Orange County. In the Aug. 28 preliminary election, the two finished first and second, respectively, in a five-candidate field, though Makowski finished well ahead, with 35 percent to Cordero’s 21 percent.
On Thursday Dowless said everything in the mailer is true, backed up by public records. He said the mailer doesn’t allege that Cordero has commited crimes herself, but focuses on “her response to these heinous acts.”
“Look: we’re not saying a mother stops loving her kids. The fact of the matter is, she has shown very-seriously bad judgment,” Dowless said.
Engels said in a written reply to Florida Politics, “I’m not certain how anyone who associates with people who treat animals like that can try to claim the moral high ground. Why didn’t the parents of Cordero’s son’s girlfriend bail her out? If I left dogs to rot in a cage and starve to death… neither my parents or significant others parents would bail me out. I gave Maribel a chance to explain herself… she refused. I made my findings clear for her to refute and she decided not to.”
The matter involves several criminal cases brought against Corderogomez and Leahy.
In February he was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and charged by State Attorney Aramis Ayala with grand theft and several counts of dealing in stolen property and receiving money from pawn brokers under false assurances. The case involves more than $100,000 in jewelry and other property, much, if not all, of it allegedy stolen from Leahy’s parents, acoridng to the arrest affidavit. Cordero bailed him out of jail.
In September he and Leahy were arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, this time for allegedly running up $14,000 worth of hotel charges at the Ritz Carlton Orlando hotel, and not paying. Then, while they were in jail for that, Leahy’s mother discovered two dead dogs locked in cages, and a nearly-dead rabbit, at a home that the sheriff’s office said she and Gomezcordero were sharing in Edgewood. They then were charged with four counts of animal cruelty.
He remains in the Orange County Jail on the second arrest.