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State attorney accused of using crime databases for personal, political use

TALLAHASSEE  -- State Attorney Robert “Skip’’ Jarvis of Live Oak has reached an agreement that will allow him to avoid prosecution for using law enforcement data bases to research his political opponents and others.

Jarvis was due to appear before a Leon County grand jJury this week in an investigation prompted by complaints from a former assistant. At the last minute Jarvis decided to drop out of the race to win re-election as part of an agreement to avoid prosecution.

Earlier this year Gov. Rick Scott appointed State Atty Brad King of Ocala to investigate Jarvis after former Assistant State Atty Michael San Fillipo of Madison filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. King, in a memo to Scott released Wednesday, said Jarvis agreed to leave office at the end of his term next January and will no longer be allowed access to the state and federal databases his office uses. In return King has agreed to take no further action against Jarvis.

The agreement allows Jarvis to escape probable felony charges for violating state and federal laws that restrict access to databases that are for law enforcement purposes only -- the National Crime Information Center, the Florida Crime Information Center and the Driver and Vehicle Information Database.

The deal also is likely to clear the way for a Republican to win the top prosecuting job in the eight Florida counties of the 3rd Circuit for the first time in modern history. Former Assistant State Attorney Jeffrey Siegmeister is the GOP nominee. Democrats have until August 28 to find another candidate. The circuit includes Madison, Suwannee, Taylor, Dixie, Columbia, Lafayette and Hamilton Counties.

Jarvis did not return a telephone call Wednesday but in a written statement to the Suwannee Democrat, he described the investigation as “purely politically motivated,’’ but said a grand jury investigation would force him to spend time and money that would distract from his campaign.

“It is their threat of taking my retirement, something I had trusted would take care of my wife after I am gone, that is my greatest fear,’’ Jarvis added after saying he would accept King’s offer to avoid a grand jury.

Jarvis won election to the $150,000 a year job four years ago after working for 24 years as an assistant to former State Attorney Jerry Blair, who retired after 30 years in office. Asked about  the accusations against Jarvis Wednesday, Blair said Jarvis clearly abused the power of his office but did not enrich himself.

“It was a decent resolution of what would have been a tough trial,’’ Blair said.

The investigation of Jarvis began earlier this year when San Fillipo, a former assistant for Jarvis, complained to FDLE that his former boss had improperly researched state and federal records concerning his wife. Details of the investigation were included in a report King submitted to the governor’s office.

FDLE agents determined that Jarvis had also conducted other searches that appeared to be improper, including a search of records relating to the wife of his Republican opponent.

Jarvis told FDLE investigators that he checked Siegmeister and his wife to determine where they lived but offered no explanation of why he needed to know. Investigators said the search went beyond basic information.

Jarvis also checked San Filippo’s wife, and told investigators he ran the check because he had seen her carrying a firearm at a blueberry festival on June 4. Mrs. San Filippo is a member of the sheriff’s posse and was on duty with other officers but had no firearm, investigators determined.

The FDLE also said Jarvis searched for information on a legislative aide for a state representative from the area. When questioned about it, Jarvis said he wanted to send something to his house but could not identify what it was or establish a legitimate reason for the search.

There were other searches that appear to have no connection to Jarvis’ role as state attorney: the administrator of a health care center, a former nursing home employee, lawyers who contacted his office for clients and a Cross City lawyer who represented the city in a bond validation case.

Each search made by Jarvis could constitute a separate criminal act if he were to be charged.

Lucy Morgan, Times Senior Correspondent