Tampa car dealer won't face charges

03/24/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Over the weekend, the Tampa Tribune reported that the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office will not file charges against Tampa car dealer Jason Kuhn even though the Florida Department of law enforcement discovered that employees were asked by Kuhn to donate to Tampa City Council candidate Julie Brown in 2006 and 2007.

Brown was defeated last year by Councilman John Dingfelder, in a race that saw both candidates spend nearly $150,000 each on the local race.

The FDLE learned that Kuhn and his controller asked employees to donate to Brown’s campaign and said they would be reimbursed for their contributions. That’s called bundling – and it’s illegal.

But Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi says Kuhn will not be prosecuted. Bondi said Kuhn wasn’t charged was because it was discovered that he did not intend to circumvent the law.

Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder is not happy that the State Attorney’s office is deciding not to prosecute Kuhn.

Suspicions were aroused last year during the middle of the race for the Tampa City Council seat when a newspaper analysis discovered that many employees and their relatives of Kuhn’s Honda and Volkswagon dealerships had contributed the maximum $500 to Brown’s campaign, even though some of them had never given money to a candidate previously, and that some lived in Clearwater, Plant City and New Port Richey, far from the South Tampa district where the race was being waged.

Those contributions all came after the City Council rejected a request by Kuhn to re-zone a shopping plaza on Kennedy Boulevard, across the street from his dealerships, to build a used car lot. At the time, Kuhn didn’t try to hid his feelings, telling the St. Petersburg Times that Dingfelder's vote – which was a reversal from an earlier hearing, was "very demoralizing" to his employees.

Dingfelder today says he’s heard from others in the community who are unhappy that Kuhn will not be prosecuted. He says they may go before the Florida Elections Commission for further redress. Dingfelder says he believes the State Attorney’s office is sending out the wrong message.

But Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi says her office did not feel that the wrongdoing done by Kuhn merited a trial.

After his searing re-election experience, Dingfelder has vowed to try to reduce big money in Tampa elections. He’s convened a citizens task force to examine how to do just that.

WMNF attempted to speak with Jason Kuhn today. He did not return our call by airtime.

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